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Few people on the periphery of the Harvard men’s hockey team truly know John Marino. Of course, they know that he wears No. 12, plays a sturdy two-way game on the Crimson’s blue line, and is a prospect of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers. But they don’t really know him.
And it’s easy to see why. The junior keeps a low profile and maintains a steady composure on the ice. His impact might not always show on the score sheet, and he certainly isn’t seeking out the nearest microphone.
“As a coach, it’s nice when you have guys that are level-headed and always focused and ready and determined, but not wearing their emotions on their sleeves,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 of Marino. “His calm demeanor on the outside disguises the fact that he’s super competitive on the ice.”
John’s demeanor disguises much more than his inner drive. During John’s time in Cambridge, there has always been a grander story that has obscured his talent and personality: a senior-led team reaches the Frozen Four in 2017; then, Ryan Donato shines on the college, Olympic, and NHL stages in 2018.
But the North Easton, Mass., native has one of the more noteworthy college experiences within the Crimson program. While John puts in the work on the ice, in the film room, and in the weight room, his twin brother, Paul, is busy splicing and preparing video for the team.
“He’ll point out little things that we may not see,” John said. “But it’s pretty cool to have him around the guys and contribute to everything we do [and] travel with us on the road. He’s always there.”
Interestingly, it is Paul who was indirectly responsible for introducing the duo to hockey, one of the most important facets of the twins’ lives.
“When I was born, my legs were deformed,” Paul explained. “At that point in time, the doctor said, ‘As soon as you can walk, put skates on.’ And that’s how me and John started playing hockey. At 18 months old, we were on the ice every day — seven days a week…. And my dad wasn’t going to bring one kid to the rink.”
From that moment on, the Marino twins shared a bond over the game of hockey that, in part, has defined their relationship as brothers.
"Every once in a while, we'll still get on the ice together, and it's fun and it's somewhat competitive. Not really."
After learning to skate together at such a young age, John and Paul competed on the same team for the South Shore Kings hockey program. Eventually, John broke out as a young player and began “playing up” with older teams — not the least bit unusual for precocious skaters.
“Every once in a while, we’ll still get on the ice together, and it’s fun and it’s somewhat competitive. Not really,” Paul joked. “It’s always been a good dynamic for us to have hockey to talk about, if nothing else. While I might suck on the ice, I can kind of think the game on his level…. It’s always been nice to bounce ideas off each other and talk about hockey.”
While John was skating with top competition, Paul was often watching from the stands. There, coincidentally, he got to know coach Donato, who was at the rink supporting his own sons. Paul credits much of his passion for hockey to his rink-side chats with coach Donato, as well as with Peter Chiarelli ’87, formerly the General Manager of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and currently the Oilers’ GM who drafted John in 2015.
Coach Donato looks back fondly on his early relationship with the Marino twins. He recalls John playing on a local “superteam” of sorts, containing much of the elite talent from the Massachusetts area in recent years and giving rise to multiple NHL mainstays. The Crimson bench boss also remembers Paul’s leg injury, which played a part in keeping Paul in the stands while John thrived on the ice.
“It’s funny, I probably have a unique perspective of it all, because I knew Paul also,” coach Donato started. “I remember Paul breaking his leg and being on the sidelines, and having two twins, one on the ice and one watching.”
In typical brotherly fashion, Paul broke his leg while racing John, sliding feet-first into the boards in a desperate attempt to prevent his younger twin from winning.
By the time John and Paul were teenagers, their relationships with hockey had clearly diverged: John continued to pursue top competition on the ice, while Paul took more of an interest in the cerebral side of the game.
“I don’t think it’s completely uncommon that, you see it with twins sometimes, they kind of share traits, or one guy might be really good at this and the other guy decides to be really good at that,” coach Donato noted. “I’ve seen their interactions away from the rink, and I know that they’re both very, very close, even though you would think that they have much different personalities.”
Whether playing, watching, or discussing hockey, the sport has seemingly always been a central element in the brothers’ relationship. Plus, the game introduced the twins to coach Donato, opening doors for both Marino boys to be a part of the current Harvard program.
“[Coach Donato] is still just a really good guy,” Paul said. “He’s helped me out a lot. He’s given me this opportunity which I appreciate a lot, and he’s given my brother the opportunity to play college hockey. So I try to do what I can to help him out with the team or just in general.”
"Well, let's try this again for another four years."
For John and Paul, spending another four years together at school has been a privilege, but one that they scarcely expected. John originally committed to Yale after bonding with an assistant coach there but rescinded his pledge after the coach left the program. Shortly thereafter, John signed at Harvard. Meanwhile, Paul’s performance in high school put him in academic contention for a spot in the Crimson’s class of 2020, so he took his chances.
“As with most people who get into Harvard, my opinion is: I was never waiting for that letter,” Paul reflected. “It was definitely a tense situation. I had no clue whether I would get in, but I thought it was worth a shot.”
When Paul learned of his acceptance, it took all of 10 seconds before the reality sunk in: he would be reuniting with John, who had been living away from home while skating for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League.
“It was two months into him being away and us finally getting used to [him] not [being] around anymore,” Paul remembered. “And then in a matter of two months later, we were like, ‘Well, let’s try this again for another four years.’”
The two twins, who had spent most every day of their childhoods together, would not yet have to part ways. Both brothers benefitted from having a very familiar face around campus, especially in the early days of their freshman year.
“Having someone to go to [was great],” John said. “I didn’t really know too many faces coming in, and having someone like that just to feel comfortable with around the guys [was important], and [Paul] was always there.”
When the duo finally arrived on campus, John’s schedule was, predictably, devoted primarily to hockey. Paul, on the other hand, had more options when it came to activities outside of school.
With passions for both hockey and statistics, he reached out to the Harvard coaching staff in search of an analytical role with the team. Thanks to a longstanding relationship with coach Donato, as well as the skill set to perform the job, Paul was the team’s video manager from that point forward.
“It’s pretty funny, spending our whole life together and then going to college [together], too, and being so close,” John said. “And [Paul is] always around the team, so he’s kind of part of the team. It’s a pretty cool dynamic.”
With such close ties to the Crimson program, it’s no surprise that John’s and Paul’s social lives overlap extensively, too. The brothers are in a Dunster House blocking group rife with hockey players, and they mingle with more or less the same friend group.
“We’ve always hung out with the hockey kids because we’ve always played hockey,” Paul noted. “We’ve always been pretty close. We hang out together outside of all this — outside of hockey — and just on a weeknight I’ll go over to his room or he’ll come over to mine.”
"Paul's been answering questions for me since I was a little kid."
As much as the twins’ Harvard experiences are similar, in some respects John and Paul could not be more different.
“We have pretty polar opposite personalities,” John admitted. “He’s more of the academic guy, I’d say, and I’m more of the sports guy. I think [our dynamic] is kind of a cool mixture of both, and we find a way to get along.”
Stretching after practice one September afternoon, senior defenseman Viktor Dombrovskiy laughingly forewarned that an interaction with Paul would be vastly different than one with John. Most obviously, Dombrovskiy was referring to the brothers’ distinct social presences: John is quieter and more reserved, whereas Paul is notoriously outgoing and talkative. In fact, Paul is often the more loquacious one even around John’s teammates.
“Paul’s been answering questions for me since I was a little kid,” John said with a laugh. “He’s always been the talker, and if you ever have a question about me, I’m sure he has an answer.”
When it comes to chatting about hockey, John is particularly hushed. When his hockey commitments are over for the day, it’s the last thing he wants to talk about, despite Paul’s analytical appreciation for the sport.
“I remember one day, me and John were just hanging out in his room, and… he was just getting annoyed with me over talking about hockey,” Paul recounted. “And so me and John would go back and forth, and... eventually it just got to the point where we started wrestling in the middle of the room until [junior forward] Colton [Kerfoot] had to pull one of us off the other.”
Routine brotherly antics add a unique element to John’s hockey experience at Harvard, as well as to that of his teammates. Paul is known to call out John for a variety of academic, social, or hockey-related matters in front of the team, precipitating cheers and laughter from the players within earshot.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” coach Donato said. “I think it adds a little bit of spirit to the group overall when you get a set of twin brothers that are different and both bring things that bring a smile to guys for maybe very different reasons.”
"We both know that we're better together than we are apart."
John Marino’s story is more interesting than his quiet and private demeanor might let on. While John logs big minutes for the Crimson squad and will only assume a larger leadership role this season, it is his extroverted twin brother, Paul, who provides a unique way to get to know the blue-liner.
After all, Paul has been there at every phase of John’s life. He was on the ice with John when the twins laced them up for the very first time. He was consistently in the stands cheering on his brother and picking the brains of great hockey minds like coach Donato, John’s eventual NCAA bench boss. And now, he roams the halls of the Bright-Landry Hockey Center, rides on the team bus, and hangs out around the locker room, experiencing Harvard hockey alongside his younger twin brother.
“Hockey has definitely shaped both of our lives in indescribable ways,” Paul began. “The amount that I’ve fallen in love with the sport and the success that John’s had, it definitely changed a lot.
“I don’t think it’s changed our dynamic as brothers too much. In a way, it does bring us together, and in a way, it’s just another aspect of who we are that we share. I think we’d be close no matter what. We both care about each other, we both love each other, and we both know that we’re better together than we are apart.”
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMorrisTHC.
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