By Mike Dougherty
The nuggets of wisdom Jim Mancuso dispenses are normally punctuated with a timely one-liner.
It’s a great way to remove some of the sting from old school criticism while getting the intended point across. There is no way of mistaking the serious nature of the longtime Scarsdale hockey coach, but he is clearly having a great time.
“He will joke around with us during practices and games,” junior forward James Nicholas said. “The funny thing is, he never laughs.”
Mancuso has spent 24 years on the Raiders’ bench. He was a volunteer assistant for one season before taking over the program. There were some pretty successful runs. Scarsdale played for the Section 1 title four times before dethroning Suffern last month and capturing the first championship in program history.
“We thought Coach might be more emotional after we finally won,” junior forward Devon Schell said. “He told us a number of times we’d never know just how much a sectional championship would mean to him, but we could tell.”
And then came a regional title with a win over Shenendehowa a week later.
Next up for Scarsdale is a state semifinal against Ithaca at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday at Utica Memorial Auditorium, which provided Mancuso a captive audience for another week.
“There are times when I don’t get what they are doing,” he said before the Raiders came together on Wednesday for practice. “There are times when they don’t get what I’m saying. We have a way of talking and figuring things out. The kids and I are both maturing.”
Mancuso has a couple of go-to phrases. “But some of them we can’t repeat,” Nicholas said.
The unmistakable Massachusetts accent provides added credibility.
“You can always hear the accent,” Nicholas said. “We’re adopting it, the whole team.”
Mancuso grew up in Massachusetts and was a fixture on the ice. He also played at the University of Connecticut.
Don’t ask him when.
“It was back in the old days,” Mancuso said. “It was before they invented wooden sticks.”
There was no routine when he took over at Scarsdale.
“We had some problems that needed to be corrected,” Mancuso said. “We had to make it more of a varsity program. There were some lean years. … It doesn’t seem like that long ago. We used to leave for practice on Sunday night and come back home on Monday morning.”
The late shift is now paying dividends.
Four years ago, Matt Blakley, Rob Burns and James Felix joined the varsity. They were joined by Nicholas and Schell the following season. That core group has compiled a 49-21-1 record.
“They all played together as kids way back when,” Mancuso said with just the right amount of sarcasm. “They all started with the Scarsdale Youth Hockey program. It’s pretty rare in Scarsdale to have a group like that come through. After practice on Tuesday, we had 75 or so mites and squirts from Scarsdale Youth Hockey out on the ice with us. That’s a good thing … as long as they stay with the program.”
It gave the varsity players a shot of perspective, too.
“We had a lot of fun,” Schell said. “We got to see the kids who are going to be playing for Scarsdale in the years to come. It reminded us of where we used to be.”
And how far they’ve come.