MAHOPAC, N.Y.— A passion for ice hockey and a desire to steer children’s lives in the right direction are only a few reasons that Mahopac resident Mario Martirano was chosen by USA Hockey Magazine for September’s coach of the month honor.

“It’s a mystery to me,” Martirano said of how he was found by the magazine to be selected. “I’m a nice guy and the kids like playing for me. We’ve won a couple of tournaments, but it’s still a mystery to me. I guess I’m well liked in the rink and in the community.”

Originally from Yonkers, the 51-year-old Martirano has played hockey since age 8 and started coaching in his 20’s with Manhattan College, his alma mater, where he played both baseball and ice hockey.

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Starting out as a youth player with the Yonkers Hockey Association in the early 1970s, Martirano also played in men’s leagues upon the age. He coached for years afterward at Westchester Skating Academy in Elmsford.

A current staple at Brewster Ice Arena, the renowned coach assists with two teams that both of his sons play on along with various youth clinics too.

“I’m an even-keeled type of guy,” Martirano said. “I try to make it more fun for the kids, especially at this age. We try to develop them and let them have fun. I don’t have a secret sauce to how I coach, but USA Hockey has a developmental model that I follow. It’s a great resource for coaches and kids that want to get into the sport.”

In his sixth year at Brewster, Martirano coaches the New York Apple Core’s Pee Wee (12 years) and Squirts (10 years) division teams.

Older son Jonathan is on Pee Wee and Christian plays with Squirts, as each team keeps Martirano’s hands full with 50-60 games per season that includes traveling to as far as Long Island.

Both teams foster youth from Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties, allowing the players to meet new friends outside school and bond through the sport.

“I like to see the camaraderie of the kids through the sport,” Martirano said. “My son Jonathan met a kid from Somers and they’re best friends now. He probably would have never met that kid without ice hockey. We go away a lot together and sleep at hotels as a team. It’s just good bonding for the kids and it keeps them out of trouble.”

But Martirano’s kids didn’t always love ice hockey. In fact, they hated it when introduced to skating at a very young age.

Heartbroken, Martirano decided to try to change their minds by building an ice rink in his backyard.

It was a genius idea, as the children grew into the household rink and couldn’t stay out of it.

Martirano, who works in the mortgage business, has lived in Mahopac since 1999. He plans on continuing to coach his children up through the ranks of ice hockey, while the main drive is to prepare children for life outside of the sport.

“Not every kid is going to play hockey in college,” Martirano said. “But these are times where they make new friendships and I try to teach them some life lessons. They need to have discipline because they have to be at the rink a certain time and do their homework first. Teaching them these lessons means a lot to me.”