By Matt Mackinder
If Ben Mack needs a role model to look up to, he need not look any further than his own family.
Ricky Mack, Ben’s older brother, played in the North American 3 Hockey League (then known as the Central States Hockey League) years back for the Peoria Mustangs and made a pretty good name for himself.
After last season playing for Vernon Hills High School in the Chicago suburbs, Mack signed with the North Iowa Bulls for the 2012-13 year, but when the Bulls had some unexpected returns to their roster, Mack was the odd man out.
No worries. Mack simply picked up the phone.
“I started making some calls and I liked what the Mountain Cats had to say,” said Mack, who doesn’t turn 17 until late December. “I knew a little bit about the league from when my brother played here, so it was really an easy choice to want to play in the NA3HL. It’s my first year of junior hockey and the season is going well. I’m optimistic we can keep it up and do very well this season.”
As the youngest player with the Mountain Cats and one of the youngest in the entire NA3HL, Mack said this season should be best used for development and getting situated with the junior hockey lifestyle and expectations.
“I’ve learned that this league is very, very competitive,” Mack said. “It’s been all that I expected.”
Even moving away from his Des Plaines, Ill., home has been tough, but something Mack thinks could help the maturity process every teenager goes through.
“This is my first time away from home, but it’s a good situation where all I have to focus on is school and hockey,” Mack said. “Ricky talked about moving away when he went to Peoria and said he was happy he had done it. My brother is really someone I truly look up to and if something worked out well for him, I’d like to follow in his footsteps and see if I can be just as successful.”
Having a coach with the Mountain Cats in Chad Grills, who played professional hockey for 10 years, is also a perk Mack is realizing on a daily basis.
“Chad is a great coach and really knows what he’s talking about,” said Mack. “He uses some great systems and also teaches us that you need to go hard every shift and that you have to fight for your spot. The hard work never stops.”
And on the ice, Mack is playing the same game he has always played. It’s a style of game that got him to this point in his career and a style that he hopes can vault him into higher levels of hockey.
“I’d like to play in the North American Hockey League next season and I think a year here in the NA3 makes perfect sense to make that jump next year,” Mack said. “If I can make a United States Hockey League roster, that would be exciting, too. Right now, I just want to focus on the Mountain Cats and this season and see where it takes me.
“I am the type of player that will do anything to win. If it means making a hit, scoring a goal, taking a hit to make a play, whatever. I’ll do whatever I can or whatever the team needs.
“I don’t want to say I want to be the hero every night, but I just want to contribute however I can to help the team.”