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ASU Hockey: Maniscalco coming into his own, developing into top defenseman

Maniscalco’s maturation

COLLEGE HOCKEY: DEC 28 ASU Desert Classic - Clarkson v Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ASU head coach Greg Powers isn’t hesitant to speak up about sophomore defenseman Josh Maniscalco.

“He’s a stud,” Powers said. “We knew what we were getting when we got him. He had a great freshman year, and he has just continued to evolve to the point where now, I think he’s one of the top defenseman in college hockey just as a sophomore.”

Powers’ words about being one of the top young blue-liners in college hockey isn’t an understatement. Between last season and the current 2019-20 Sun Devil schedule, he is a combined plus-18.

This year, Maniscalco is leading the Sun Devil blue line in points, and he is third on the team in scoring behind only junior forwards Johnny Walker and James Sanchez.

However, it’s not his scoring touch that matters most. Rather, Maniscalco has displayed an uncanny ability to break the puck out of the defensive zone, and he seems to always activate on the rush at just the right time.

“He’s got everything you want,” Powers said. “He’s got poise and he can break it out better than anybody you will see, and now he’s starting to produce offensively.”

One example of Maniscalco’s prowess came on ASU’s first goal of the season against Mercyhurst. From his own zone, he rifled a cross-ice saucer pass to the opposing blue line, where junior forward Willie Knierim took the pass, and tucked it home for a goal.

Against Alaska-Fairbanks, Maniscalco also had a three-point night with two goals to help the Sun Devils earn a split up North.

One person who has helped him along the way is his senior defense partner and captain, Brinson Pasichnuk. Since opening night last October, the pairing has not been split up for a single game, and they allow each other to activate offensively at given moments because of the chemistry that they have garnered.

“Playing with him this year, I don’t have to get used to the way he plays and learn the little ins and outs,” said Maniscalco of the duo. “I think that has helped a lot, honestly. I know where he’s going with the puck, and he knows where I am going with the puck. In a way, it’s easy to read off of him.”

Off the ice, the pairing has gotten closer than ever as well. Pasichnuk, who recently got married this offseason, goes on double dates with Maniscalco and his girlfriend. The pair of significant others share a tight bond, and they share a sweet tooth.

Although Pasichnuk and Maniscalco see eye-to-eye on the ice, they share differences when it comes to their sweets. Similar to an episode on Food Network, they bicker and have friendly debates over which place has the best desserts around the Tempe area.

“We get in arguments over Hurts Donuts over Krispy Kreme all the time,” said Pasichnuk with a laugh talking about which place has better donuts. “We’ll send snapchats of desserts just debating on it.”

Among the other notable destinations, Maniscalco listed off Dirty Dough cookies, the donut establishments, and The Baked Bear on Mill Avenue as noteworthy locations that they like to attend.

Ultimately though, the time away from the rink has just made the duo that much more in sync on the ice. It’s allowed them to form a brotherhood.

“It’s nice to have that friendship away from the rink where you can not think about hockey and just be there for each other and laugh,” Maniscalco said. “I think that makes things that much more important to you on the ice to do your job and be successful to work hard for one another.”

Pasichnuk found importance in those same qualities.

“It just feels like we know where each other is going to be,” Pasichnuk said. “I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are best friends away from the rink and we are always hanging out...We can count on each other to where if one of us makes a mistake, the other one is going to sell out completely.”

While Pasichnuk had a busy offseason with his wedding, Maniscalco also had his own proceedings in the works.

He attended his first National Hockey League (NHL) Development Camp with the Boston Bruins, and he trained back home in Pennsylvania along with Penn State freshman forward Connor McMenamin, who Maniscalco has known since he was three years old.

His offseason habits helped when he arrived back in Arizona to work with ASU Head of Sports Performance for Olympic Sports, Liane Blyn.

“Having that relationship with him (McMenamin), we pushed each other harder than ever all summer long...For me personally, if you have someone who is pushing you, that’s what gives you the most success,” Maniscalco said. “Back home, I have my own trainer so I go through that and then on the weekends, I’d focus on what we are doing here.”

All of that culminated into Maniscalco’s early-season tear, and he admitted there’s even more to work on in the weight room as he continues his time as a Sun Devil.

“I came in as the same weight, but Liane has done a really good job of helping me lean out, which is what I want to do,” he said. “From here, I’ll probably try to put on five to 10 pounds, but I like the weight I am at and the fitness level I am at. I kind of just have to keep that consistent.”

Altogether, Maniscalco has proven that he’s in for a bright future not only in the NCAA, but possibly at the next level in the professional ranks.

His development has continued, and he’s progressed from a solid freshman campaign into a steady sophomore.

The desserts that he enjoys with Pasichnuk have been sweet, but their play on the ice has been sweeter. And the ASU senior captain thinks there’s even more in store for his teammate.

“He’s going to be a great professional hockey player,” Pasichnuk said.