Sports

Hockey

Mantha named captain of IceDogs

By Bernie Puchalski

Ryan Mantha has been named the captain of the Niagara IceDogs.

Ryan Mantha has been named the captain of the Niagara IceDogs.

ST. CATHARINES - 

The Niagara IceDogs have named a trio of veterans to serve as the on- and off-ice leaders of a young and inexperienced OHL squad.

Ryan Mantha, 20, has been named the team’s captain while 20-year-old Aaron Haydon and 19-year-old Johnny Corneil will serve as assistant captains. Another assistant is to be named at a later date.

Mantha, a fourth-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2014, was called into the IceDogs’ video room Wednesday afternoon by head coach Dave Bell and told the news.

“I didn’t think I was being traded,” he said with a smile. “It’s pretty exciting, especially at a time now with all the young guys. It will be a fun year and good for them to learn.”

The news was announced to the team at a meeting Thursday morning before the team got on a bus heading for their Friday night season opener in North Bay.

“I am going to try and be myself,” the 6-foot-5, 225-pound defenceman said. “My biggest strength is the way I go about my business, lead by example and have the young guys talk to me if they need help.

“I’m going to be the role model, big brother figure in the room.”

The Clarkston, Mich., native describes himself as a combination of silent leader and rah rah type of guy.

“I also want to have fun in the room,” he said. “I don’t want to be the guy who is down everybody’s throat all day, but there’s a time to be serious and a time to have fun. It’s good that I know both sides of that and I will go from there.”

Mantha is entering the most important year of his hockey career. The New York Rangers offered him a contract he didn’t accept and he will be looking to attract another team’s interest.

“It wasn’t anything that I anticipated so I’ve got another year left and I might as well use it,” he said. “That’s where I am at right now. I’m going to play, have fun and lead by example.”

Bell was surprised the Rangers didn’t find a way to sign Mantha.

“He’s a great player and should be playing pro and this other accolade, to be our captain, is another statement to every pro team out there that this kid is a great player and is going to be a good pro.”

Bell describes Mantha as the consummate pro.

“Every day for the last three years, he has come to the rink and he’s done everything he needs to do to prepare himself to win games and be better,” the first-year head coach said. “He gets it, he’s respectful of all his teammates and he’s not a bully or a loud mouth.”

Bell likes that Mantra is able to relate to everyone on the team.

“It’s such a big, fresh group and, in the past, we’ve had cliques,” he said. “Cliques don’t work and if he sees them, he has to make sure they don’t happen and we have one unit of 23-25 guys, not five here and six there.

“We can’t have the young guys versus the old guys, or the school guys versus the non-school guys.”

Bell loves Mantha’s personality.

“He’s an easy guy to get along with, but he really hates losing and he’s a great example of what we want an IceDog to be.”

Mantha is expected to be a sounding board for Bell.

“I need to know if the guys are tired,” he said. “We are going to push them hard and play hard, but he’s going to get a feel for the room and make sure everyone is feeling good.”

Haydon, a sixth-round pick of the Dallas Stars, is the longest serving IceDog with four years with the squad.

“He’s a warrior on the ice and he’s been through one rebuild and one run,” Bell said of the 6-foot-4, 200-pound defenceman. “He’s a guy who has a huge presence when he walks in the room and when he skates on the ice. He keeps the other team accountable and he keeps our team accountable.”

Corneil, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound centre from Lindsay, has impressed Bell his entire career.

“You rarely have to talk to Johnny,” he said. “He does everything right, he does everything for the team, he quietly goes about his business and all he does is work. He keeps his mouth shut and is a zero maintenance kid.”

Most pundits in the league have the IceDogs languishing in the basement of the league, but Mantha is optimistic heading into the season opener.

“We have a fast team and I think people don’t expect much because we’ve had such a turnover,” he said. “I think we will shock a lot of people. Once the young guys start getting it and getting used to the league a little bit, I think we will be a dangerous team.”

Bell isn’t paying attention to how the naysayers feel about the IceDogs’ chances.

“I don’t read the paper and I don’t know if they do,” he said. “We have to prove to the 23 guys that we stare at every day that we are getting better.”

Thursday’s last practice before catching the bus had a palpable buzz to it.

“There a balance between being excited and over-excited and not using your brain, but I think they’re in a really good spot right now,” Bell said.

 



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