Hockey runs deep through John Mooney’s bloodlines.

The 16-year-old West Mifflin native and North Catholic sophomore is now adding his own chapter to his family’s significant local lore around the game.

Mooney, who goes by the nickname “LJ,” was last week selected to take part in USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which places him on the U.S. National Under-17 team for the 2023-24 season.

 “It means everything,” said Mooney of his selection to the elite national team. “It’s my whole life, my whole family being into hockey, I’ve been doing it my whole life. It just means everything.”

The Mooney family’s passion for hockey began with LJ’s father, John, and uncle, Tom.

The elder John Mooney rose to hockey prominence locally when he became the first player in WPIHL history to score 100 goals in a season when he scored 102 for Serra Catholic in 1988-89. He went on to play at Division I Colorado College and with the minor league Johnstown Chiefs before coaching his alma mater Serra Catholic to three consecutive Class A Penguins Cup and state championships from 2000-02.

Tom Mooney would meanwhile have a standout high school hockey career of his own at West Mifflin before moving on to play at Notre Dame.

The next generation of the family’s hockey players only built upon that success.

Two of John and Donna Mooney’s five daughters, Ireland and Kaley, played at Miami of Ohio. Logan Cooley — Ireland, Kaley and LJ’s cousin — became Western Pennsylvania’s highest NHL Draft selection when the West Mifflin native was selected third overall by the Arizona Coyotes last summer.

Cooley, who scored 22 goals as a freshman this winter to lead Minnesota to the NCAA Division I national championship game, began playing for the National Under-17 team two years before his cousin, LJ, was selected.

“They’re taking the top 20 kids, 23 kids with the goalies, and it’s just every American’s dream to make that team,” said John Mooney of his son’s selection to the National Under-17 team. “It meant everything to him the last couple years. Just seeing what his cousin went through to make that team, and he looks up to him, he’s very excited to make that team.”

Also, like Cooley, Mooney has been a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite development program for the past eight years. Most recently, Mooney played for Pens Elite Under-16 team.

“There’s a lot of family ties to the game,” said Kevin Reiter, director of player personnel for the National Team Development Program, of Mooney. “I think that’s a big part of the reason why he’s such a smart hockey player and has such a high IQ, being around people who know the game and watching the game and being around people who know how the game is supposed to be played. For us, it’s a huge benefit.”

The U.S. Under-17 team primarily plays in the United States Hockey League, the lone Tier I junior hockey league in the country, but also faces competition in the North American Hockey League and Minnesota Elite League. The U-17 team will additionally take part in three international tournaments during the players’ two-year commitment to U.S. Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

Mooney said he is excited to begin playing for the national team when he moves to the program’s home of Plymouth, Mich., in August.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’ve known these kids for so long just playing spring tournaments with them, so now actually being on a team with them is going to be so fun.”

It should also be beneficial to Mooney’s hockey career. The standout Pens Elite player said he is looking to develop his skills.

“I want to just make it as far as I can, get the best I can out of the two years, work hard every day … and then try and move up to college hockey after those two years,” Mooney said.

A right-handed center, Mooney is one of 13 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders on the roster. He joins Kennett Square goaltender Patrick Quinlan as the only Pennsylvania-bred players on the national team.

“We want guys when they leave our program to be really versatile,” Reiter said. “For us, [Mooney is] going to play power play, he’s going to play PK. We try to get everyone in all different types of situations so when they move up a level, and all different levels of hockey, they know what to do.”

That shouldn’t be a problem for Mooney.

Even if that means his parents have to send the youngest of their six children to live away from the family for most of the next two years.

“It’s one step at a time,” John Mooney said. “One thing I know, he’s going to work. You can’t rest on what you did last year. You’ve just got to keep getting better and better and that’s all you can ask for.

“Now he’s looking to go up from there.”

And he will receive plenty of encouragement and tutelage from Cooley along the way.

Mooney said his cousin texted him after learning he would be following in his footsteps on the national team to offer his congratulations and remind him to “always be working.”

“It was awesome,” Mooney said. “I’ve been looking forward to doing the camp and trying to make that team for so long, since my cousin was going through it. It’s an honor to make that team.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at