The ice that binds

West Milford's standout goalie Ross Mantione shares the love of hockey with his mom

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  • Sandy Mantione started playing ice hockey on a dare from her son, Ross, West Milford's standout goal tender.

  • Mom and son are pretty intense competitors on the ice.

“I get in a lot of fights. Last year I got thrown out of the game. It’s supposed to be for fun but it does get competitive. That adrenaline gets to you. Teammates sometimes call me the enforcer."
Sandy Mantione, mom and fellow hockey player

It all began with a dad’s lifelong passion for ice hockey. Russ Mantione was 18 years old when his parents bought him a season ticket to the Philadelphia Flyers. According to his wife, Sandy, he cut class every day at Drexel University to see the Flyers practice.

Fast forward several years: a friend of Sandy’s suggested she and Russ take their son, Ross, to an ice hockey program at Sport-o-Rama in Munsey, N.Y. Father Russ recalls Ross “went out on the ice and never fell down. He was born for the ice. We bought him all the gear right then. He was seven years old.”

It took his mom a little longer to get on the ice and find her passion for ice hockey. Yes, his mom.

Ross's story
Sandy Mantione credits her husband as the catalyst for Ross, inspiring his interest and getting up at 4 a.m. to take him to practice. Ross, a Flyers fan like his dad, started out with the West Milford Bears league as a forward and, after a few sessions, as a goal tender.

Now a senior at West Milford High School and a goalie for the Highlanders, Ross finished a very successful season with a 12-9-3 record, including playoffs and states. The Highlanders started slow this past season.

“We started off pretty rough; 1-6-1, after falling victim to a few injuries," said Ross. "Once we got healthy, we began to get on a roll and win a few games.”

That they did. The team won the 2014 Passaic County championship and Ross accrued many honors this year and throughout his high school career (see box).

Enjoying the challenge

Ross enjoys the challenges of being a goal tender.

“Day in and out, each game, you’re facing close to 20 shots — at speeds of up to 106 miles per hour - and have a two-inch diameter piece of rubber coming at you," said Ross. "You got to stand in front of it.”

How does a goalie prepare for that? Ross said he has only one pre-game ritual.

“The only ritual is I sit in the locker room and try to sit in same spot all the time," he said. "I will sit five minutes before a game and still not be dressed — getting prepared for whatever challenges the other team may bring.”

But success comes with hard work. Ross has some advice for anyone interested in hockey.

“You’d better be ready to work (at) all the challenges it brings: the ability to skate, puck handling, mental challenges," said Ross. "I had plenty of those at the start of year. I continue to work hard and hope for the best.”

Don't mess with Ross' mom

Although Ross and his dad share their love of the Flyers and spend lots of time at practices and tournaments, Sandy Mantione, Ross’ mom, realtor and co-owner of Realty Executives here in West Milford, shares his love of ice hockey, and not just as a proud parent spectator. She’s a left wing forward for the Quarry Cats, a women’s ice hockey team. And she plays with all the intensity of a pro.

An athlete since high school, she describes herself as “going from the time I get up.”

And just how did this busy realtor get involved in hockey? Mantione said she was motivated by her son. After one of his game, a women’s team came on the ice and Ross dared her to try out. She found the Quarry Cats, an independent team whose home is Floyd Hall Arena on the campus of Montclair State University, and did just that.

What’s it like for a teen having a mom who plays hockey, too?

“I guess you could say it’s an advantage,” Ross said. “I don’t see any disadvantages to it. Occasionally “she’ll (give hockey advice) but I just let it go in one ear and out the other because she’s not right half the time.”

Mantione loves being part of the team and describes it as one big family. She said she doesn’t have any pregame rituals, but she does drink a little Red Bull. And, like many hockey players, Mantione can get a bit intense.

“I get in a lot of fights," said this hockey mom. "Last year I got thrown out of the game. It’s supposed to be for fun but it does get competitive. That adrenaline gets to you. Teammates sometimes call me the enforcer. I get to score — that’s where a lot of the glory is.“

Does Mantione's prowess as a hockey player scare her real estate clients? Most of them are intrigued by it, she said. Colleagues will sometimes say, “I don’t want to tick you off or get on your bad side.” Mantione said, “It’s all in good fun. I’m not an aggressive person — friends would say I’m a teddy bear.”

But it is nice to win. In 2012, her team won the USAA Hockey Tier II Over-40 Women’s National Hockey Championship in Ottawa Canada.

And that's not the only competitive activity she participates in. When she’s not playing hockey or being a realtor, Mantione and real estate partner, Lisa Gaertner, breed dogs; one of them won a medal at the Westminster Dog Show this year.

And how does she unwind from her busy schedule? That's easy.

“That‘s what hockey’s for."

Ross's future

Ross’s goal now is to play junior hockey — it opens up opportunities at four-year colleges that he wouldn’t have coming straight out of high school, he said. Junior hockey is where scouts observe kids develop and grow as athletes. Afterwards, Ross plans to attend college and study meteorology; he wants to be a storm-chaser.

“He’s the only kid I know with probably 20 weather apps on his phone," dad Russ said.

His dad contemplates the future with a certain wistfulness.

“I will tell you that…as his high school hockey career comes to an end, I’ve been dreading the end of nights and weekends, when I used to spend time with him going to hockey practice, games, tournaments and lessons," said Russ Mantione.

Chances are Russ will get to see his son play a lot more hockey. And, someday, he can watch his son's career as a meteorologist.

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