There are many advantages to staying close to home for your college athletic career.
Vince Muto had already spent four years away from his family in Niagara Falls between prep school at Trinity-Pawling outside of Poughkeepsie and two years in junior hockey in British Columbia and Sioux Falls, S.D.
So when it came time to choose among college offers, picking between Fairbanks and Niagara was rather easy.
“I just wanted to be close to home,” Muto said. “I’m living at home. It’s the best situation I could ask for. I get my mom’s cooking every night. That’s like a huge thing for me.”
“There are some local kids who don’t want to stay home,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “We’re just lucky he decided this was the right spot for him. It’s a very close family, and being able to share your college academic and athletic career with your folks and family nearby is priceless, actually.”
Muto grew up going to a few Purple Eagle camps and playing Mite for the Junior Purple Eagles before playing for the Wheatfield Blades.
He went away for prep school and was named Rookie of the Year with the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the British Columbia Hockey League in 2011-12. Last season he played 54 games with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL.
And in his freshman season at Niagara, he’s already become a consistent part of the Purple Eagles’ blue line.
Muto has 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) and is on a six-game point streak heading into this weekend’s home-and-home series with Robert Morris. The series opens tonight at 7 at Dwyer Arena and moves to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“He has been really solid in a lot of areas. When you come in at his size and his fitness level, it allowed him to take on the load that we’ve been giving him,” Burkholder said of the 6-1, 200-pound Muto. “He plays in every situation. For a freshman that’s unbelievable. He’s killing penalties. He’s on our first power play unit. What better way to develop and get better than by being in that pressure cooker as early as it’s happened for him? It doesn’t happen for every player, every freshman, but he’s certainly been able to handle it.
“He’s still learning his trade. There’s nights when he looks like a senior. There are some other parts of his game that when he’s trying to do too much, he can look like a freshman.”
Muto leads all Niagara rookies, and all Niagara defensemen, with his 15 points. That number ranks him seventh among all Atlantic Hockey freshmen and seventh among all conference defensemen. The key for Muto’s games this year has been living the axiom less is more.
“The main thing is they just want me to keep everything simple,” Muto said. “Whenever I do too much, I end up getting myself in trouble.”
The Purple Eagles have been running around with a purpose lately. They are 4-1-1 in their last six games.
Niagara is now in sixth place in the Atlantic Hockey standings with 22 points, four behind Robert Morris and five away from fourth place, the coveted final spot for a first-round playoff bye.
Canisius, which fell to seventh place after going 0-1-1 against the Purple Eagles last weekend, hosts third-place Air Force at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Buffalo State Ice Arena.