John Marino thought he escaped the full face shield he wore at Harvard through last season when he turned pro, but the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie defenseman will be wearing it once again, at least for a bit, and that’s something he can embrace because it means returning from injury.
Marino, who has been more than a pleasant surprise this season, is expected to return from facial surgery as soon as Tuesday night when the Ottawa Senators visit PPG Paints Arena.
That means wearing the full shield again, the exact design he wore at Harvard.
“I’ll wear it for a little while, just in case you get hit in the face again or something like that,” Marino said Monday after practice at the arena. “Yeah, for a little while.”
Marino found it somewhat freeing this season to move from the full guard to the visor worn by NHL players.
“I think it’s a little easier just to see the puck,” he said of the smaller visor. “You don’t have to look down as much, and looking over the shoulder is a little bit easier, but there are pros and cons with both.”
Even though it’s been less than a year since he wore the full shield, he found that he had to get readjusted to it after the injury as he returned to skating and then, last week, practice.
“Obviously, little things you notice,” Marino said. “Like, looking over your shoulder is a little tougher. I didn’t wear it too long ago, so, hopefully, the adjustment isn’t so much of a difference.”
Marino got hurt when Tampa Bay sniper Steven Stamkos took a shot that went off a Penguins teammate’s stick and struck the defenseman on his upper left cheek, just eluding the visor.
The incident left him with broken cheek bones that required surgical repair. By Monday, the discoloration around his left eye was barely noticeable and there was a small red scar on that cheek.
“Each day the swelling goes down, less and less,” Marino said. “The medical staff did a great job, people that I work with. I had a lot of help.”
Marino has established himself at a top-four defenseman after an impressive training camp. The Penguins acquired him from Edmonton last July for a 2021 sixth-round draft pick. The Oilers drafted him in the sixth round in 2015.
He’s certainly playing above that pedigree. He has five goals, 25 points in 51 games and plays with the positioning and poise of someone beyond his 22 years.
As with top-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who is coming off ankle surgery, Marino is officially a game-time decision for Tuesday after he took up a regular spot alongside Marcus Pettersson and on the No. 2 power play unit at practice Monday.
Marino said his recovery and rehab was made easier in that he didn’t have an injury that directly involved hockey skills, such as skating or shooting.
“It’s not like a muscle or anything,” he said. “Obviously, not playing for a little while you’ve got to jump back into it, but luckily it wasn’t something (with a limb, etc.).
“It’s tough to simulate a game, even in practice. The only way to get back out there is to get back into games, kind of get a feel for it.”
Something he seems likely to do, full shield and all, very soon.