NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Jackalopes’ Mansfield made move to get back on the ice

Odessa Jackalopes captain Ryan Mansfield has been on skates since he was 2.

Earlier than most, but not too many, in his hometown of Burlington, Ontario, Canada.

“It’s hard to escape up there,” he said, smiling. “Everyone has pretty much been on skates since they could walk.”

Located on Lake Ontario just west of Niagara Falls, on the outskirts of Toronto, Burlington provided plenty of opportunities for pond hockey, games on backyard rinks or a little shinny every now and then with friends.

It was a launching pad, as well, with Mansfield developing skills needed to move up the ranks before finally finding himself playing Triple-A hockey for his hometown Burlington Eagles on the U-15 squad.

Mansfield continued his climb to the Toronto Patriots of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, scoring 32 points in 50 games during the 2019-2020 season.

The ice was then literally pulled out from under his skates when the leagues shut down for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mansfield knew he didn’t want to sit out another season, not with aspirations of playing Division I hockey.

When Scott Deur, the new head coach of the Jackalopes, reached out to him in the summer of 2021, Mansfield made the leap.

“I was playing in the OJ and then with COVID and everything, they were a little more conservative about restarting their league,” Mansfield said. “I didn’t want that, after a season of not playing, of taking the chance of another season without playing.

“Scotty called me and said ‘Hey, I have a tender for you if you want to come try and make a spot here’. And I thought that if anywhere is going to play, it’s going to be Texas because the state is wide open, so I made the trip.”

Mansfield made the squad out of main camp and then made the move to West Texas.

But the time away from the ice due to the pandemic created a slow start as he took a while to get acclimated to a new country, new city, new teammates and new league.

Finally, near the midway point of the 2021-22 campaign, he felt like his former self on the ice and it showed as he finished with 32 points in 56 games, with 26 of those points coming in the final 29 games of the season.

“This league, this division especially, is a lot harder to play in,” he said. “There is a lot less open space, a lot tougher, a lot more physical.

“I was a younger league, in the OJ; I was playing there when I was 16-17 years old. It’s a lot older down here, you can tell by the commitments; it’s a lot more competitive but I knew what I was getting myself into so it was exciting.”

What has been exciting for the Jackalopes thus far in the 2022-23 season has been his continued scoring output, along with the team being in the playoff hunt with 31 games remaining.

He has 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) to share the scoring lead with Tanyon Bajzer (13-15-28), with Emerson Goode (17-5-22) in third.

The trio helped the Jackalopes sweep Corpus Christi last week and will be a big reason why Odessa makes the postseason for the first time since 2018.

Not making the playoffs last season was a driving factor in Mansfield’s return to the Permian Basin.

His commitment to the organization and his teammates was rewarded when he was elected to lead the team.

Mansfield understands the honor bestowed on him but is quick to deflect, saying “there are a lot of guys that have voices in that room.”

“It felt really good to be recognized by all the guys in the room and the coaches,” he added. “I’m just hoping that I can represent the team and the organization well.”

>> Follow Lee Scheide on Twitter at @OALeeScheide