Mario Ferraro making his mark with UMass By Mollie Walker

Special moments in an average 19-year-old’s lifetime do not usually include fulfilling your childhood dream.

Halfway through the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, dreams did come true for Massachusetts freshman defenseman Mario Ferraro as he was selected 49th overall by the San Jose Sharks, tremendously sooner than anybody, including himself, had ever expected.

“It was the greatest moment of my life, really,” Ferraro said. “Just having my family all there with me to experience that.”

For Ferraro, getting drafted as early as he did didn’t prompt any stoppage in improving his game or provide any comfort in his capabilities. If anything, he worked harder. According to the freshman, the draft is something he “tries not to focus on.”

“At the end of the day we’re all equal on this team,” Ferraro said. “Everyone has to earn their ice time here at UMass and I just come out every practice and every game and work my hardest.”

Ferraro said he does his best to try and keep the pressure off by focusing all his efforts on bettering the team as a whole and doing his part to contribute to UMass’ success.

“You could probably play him 50 minutes of the game and [Mario would] find a way to do it,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “He’s a real coachable kid and brings the same standards and same level of intensity every night.”

“He’s just a real team guy, he’ll eat pucks and he does all the little things,” Carvel added. “He’s got the ability to do the big things too so he’s been a great addition to our team.”

The two-year head coach sees a modesty in Ferraro that is typically hard to find in players at his age and level. Carvel admires his ability to block out everything around him during games, which shows in his incomparable effort on the ice.

“Even if he was getting the spotlight, I don’t even know if he would realize it,” Carvel said. “He doesn’t care about that other stuff and that’s part of what makes him so good.

“He’s like the one kid on the team who’s not on Twitter which makes him great because he brings the same thing every day and it doesn’t matter what’s going on around him,” Carvel added. “[He is] just a really great kid to have on the team, I love him.”

(Caroline O'Connor/ Daily Collegian)

One is a party, two is a show

Cale Makar, a first round fourth overall draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche, considers his fellow D-partner’s work ethic and overall attitude to be an exceptional example to the young roster.

“I think the only level the guy has is 100 percent,” Makar said. “He’s an energy ball for sure, whenever our team needs a little bit of a spark he’s always there.”

Carvel did not have the two drafted defenseman on the same pair at the beginning of the season, but after toying with the rotations Makar and Ferraro found themselves side-by-side.

“I think we’ve got a lot of chemistry together; we find each other well out there on the ice,” Ferraro said of Makar. “I think we have similar play styles out there and he’s definitely very hardworking and has a lot of skill.

“That motivates me to build up my skills as well and I think we learn from each other quite a bit out there,” he added. “We both have our strengths and weaknesses as players, as everyone does, we try to push each other as best as we can during practice. It’s definitely great playing alongside him.”

“It’s pretty cool [playing with Ferraro],” Makar said. “I know that we both like to push the pace of games and move our feet as fast as we can and get up the ice together.”

On Dec. 6 it was announced that both Makar and Ferraro were selected to the 32-player roster for Canada’s World Junior selection camp. The pair were two of the four NCAA players selected for the squad.

“We’ve been pretty successful early in this season and the team’s success does bring on individual success.” - Mario Ferraro

“It’s definitely great to have a great player there like Cale with me,” Ferraro said. “Like I said, not many people get this opportunity and it’s awesome to have a guy like that by my side at that camp.”

The two have the opportunity to potentially be a part of the 23 selected to join Team Canada in the 2018 World Junior Championships in Buffalo beginning on Dec. 26.

“We’ve been pretty successful early in this season and the team’s success does bring on individual success,” Ferraro said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it.”

Ferraro’s selection by the Sharks this past June concluded the most historic draft in UMass history, sliding in as the second highest draft pick the Minutemen have carried behind Makar.

UMass joins Boston University and Michigan as one of three schools to have more than one player drafted before the third round this year. Out of the 22 players that were chosen from Hockey East institutions, Makar and Ferraro took first and fourth.

“We play the hell out of [Mario] and Cale,” Carvel said. “They both play about 27-28 minutes every game so those two guys are really important.”

Carvel has high hopes for the defensive duo, believing that every day they continue to figure out ways to be more offensive. Together they are going through the transition from junior hockey to the collegiate level.

“Tighter checking, finding ways to contribute offensively and not trying to do too much is probably what him and Cale are going through right now,” Carvel said in early November. “I just expect [Ferraro] to continue to be a dominant, physical presence on the ice.”

The duo have combined for 46 blocked shots and 17 points, playing a major role in the Minutemen’s turnaround season so far.

For UMass, having not just one but two high NHL draft picks on the roster captured a lot of attention and brought a new sense of excitement to the Mullins Center for the first time in a long time.

“If Cale wasn’t here, he’d probably get a lot more spotlight,” Carvel said. “Second round is a pretty good draft pick, but I think he’s the type of kid he doesn’t even think twice about that.”

(Amelia Shaw/ Daily Collegian)

In Amherst at last

Questions have seemed to surround Ferraro’s game for basically the entirety of his hockey career.

Prior to being drafted, his 5-foot-10 stature as a defenseman was a primary concern, as it isn’t the ideal height for a NHL-caliber D-man.

“I’ve always been an undersized defenseman, it’s not necessarily something I like to focus on,” Ferraro said. “At this level I’ve always had to rely on my speed and growing up I tried to use that to my advantage to have quick feet and get ahead of guys.

“Having that grit to my game I think really instills that fear in my opponents coming across the blue line,” he added.

While easily overlooked by his savvy skating abilities, undeniable ice vision and overall agility, Future Considerations scouting reports highlighted Ferraro’s “stellar puck control” and “composure in high levels of speed.”

Before coming to Amherst, Ferraro played junior hockey in the United States Hockey League (USHL) for the Des Moines Buccaneers. Ferraro registered 41 points on eight goals and 33 assists over 60 regular season contests.

The freshman was also called for 42 penalty minutes during his time in the USHL, revealing his tenacious presence on the ice.

“Coach Carvel really likes his [defense] to get involved and be that link guy coming in and with the ice we’ve got here, as big as it is,” Ferraro said. “It helps me focus on getting involved in the offensive zone and kind of having that offensive mindset.

“We’re a hardworking team that likes to finish all of our checks.” Ferraro added. “I think that’s important moving forward to develop that grit in my game. I like to think that I’m a pretty gritty player out there already but it just helps me build on that.”

Ferraro saw himself fitting well into the UMass roster, particularly being drawn to the committed coaching staff as well as academically to the prestigious Isenberg School of Management program. The Ontario native also felt as though Carvel’s coaching style complimented his own style as a player.

“This is just such a great school and it’s just such a great fit for me,” Ferraro said. “There’s a really growing organization here that’s going to be successful in the years to come and I’m excited for it.”

“He’s 19-years-old, he’s in great shape but he’s going to continue to get stronger and as he does he’s going to become a real heavy player in our zone." - Greg Carvel

Leading UMass with 27 blocks and adding eight points (three goals, five assists) this season, it’s obvious what an intricate piece Ferraro has become.

“He’s 19-years-old, he’s in great shape but he’s going to continue to get stronger and as he does he’s going to become a real heavy player in our zone,” Carvel said.

UMass won five games in the entirety of its 2016-17 season. Opposing coaches have repeatedly acknowledged the apparent difference in the program compared to not just the previous season, but well beyond that.

Ferraro recognizes the potential the UMass hockey program has for the future and is grateful to be part of an up-and-coming organization that is stirring some conversation in the hockey world.

It’s safe to say Carvel and the rest of the Minutemen are just as grateful.

Mollie Walker can be reached at molliewalker@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.

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