June 23, 2014
Ryan Mantha got a lessoon about blocking out factors beyond one's control this season.
The Indiana Ice authored a life-imitates-major Slap Shot story, capturing the Clark Cup as United States Hockey League champions under the guidance of coach Jeff Brown despite the distraction of the franchise going dark for a season. So on top of getting seasoning in a winning environment, Mantha feels he learned about focus.
"At first everyone — guys that weren't going to college — were wondering, 'what are we doing?' " says Mantha, who is NHL Central Scouting Service's No. 149-ranked North American skater. "Once we found out they were having a dispersal, guys settled down and thought, 'we might as well go out with a bang by winning.' "
Mantha's draft stock flagged across the run of the USHL season, which he began with the Sioux City Musketeers before his trade to Indiana. The North Bay, Ont-born native of Clarkston, Mich., has can't-be-taught pro-calibre size at 6-foot-4½ and 225 pounds and has a pro hockey bloodline as the nephew of 1980s-vintage NHL defenceman Moe Mantha. (His father, Bob Mantha, also played major junior hockey.)
"I know I had an up-and-down season, but I felt I got stronger in the second half," Ryan Mantha says. "Winning a USHL Clark Cup was pretty exciting."
Mantha's next port of call could be contingent on which NHL organization takes a chance on him at the NHL draft this weekend in Philadelphia. The big defender is uncommitted to a NCAA school for this season. The Muskegon Lumberjacks have his USHL rights, while the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara IceDogs recently traded two priority selection picks for his rights."
"North Dakota has eight D returning," Mantha says. "I don't want to sit, I want to continue to develop. I'm keeping my options open right now. They haven't told me to go back. That's something I have to decide over the summer.
"I think they're going to decide," he says of a NHL franchise having influence on the decision of where to play as an 18-year-old. "Some teams say they won't but I think if someone has input on what is best for me, I'll really consider it."
1. How do you describe your style of play?
"A steady-Eddie D-man. I can make the good first pass, use the net [to evade forecheckers], have a good gap, a good stick, be physical when I can ... I want to get quicker feet. I think that will really boost me."
2. What prompted you to pursue the college hockey route?
"When I was 16 I went to the '40 camp' for the [national team development] program at USA Hockey. I talked to some schools. I decided to get a good education to fall back on even though you can get get one from the O nowadays. I felt that was best for my development at the time."
3. Who is one person, outside of your parents, whom you credit for helping you reach this point?
"Jeff Brown, my coach in Indiana [who was recently hired as head coach of the OHL's Ottawa 67's — Ed.]. He taught me everything about using that net to your benefit, making guys chase you and come out the other way.
"Last year, they [Indiana] were one of the worst teams in the league. He comes in, wins GM of the year and wins a championship. That says it all right there."
4. How have you benefited from your unique dual Canadian-American hockey background?
"I'm fortunate to get both sides of it. My dad [Bob Mantha] played for the Cornwall Royals in the OHL, my uncle [Moe] played in the O. My grandpa [Moe Mantha Sr.] played semi-pro and I've been told he would have played pro if there had been more teams at that time. The knowledge they have, they pass it on to me."
5. If hockey did not exist, what sport could you picture yourself palying?
"To be honest, I don't picture myself doing anything. Hockey is what I've always done and hockey is what I love."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.