By Stefan Kubus –
It may sound like a dream for coaches and management everywhere, but it wasn’t always beneficial having a 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame for a budding defenseman from Clarkston.
Before he was manning the blue line in Sioux City as a member of the USHL’s Musketeers, Ryan Mantha honed his game and attempted to grow into his body playing AAA hockey in Michigan for Belle Tire.
Mantha played on a team with fellow Michigan natives Dylan Larkin (Waterford), Aaron Haydon (Plymouth) and Dylan Pavelek (Marysville), whom he was reunited with at the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Pittsburgh, Pa. Thursday night.
Mantha credits his former teammates, some of the best he played against, for really helping accelerate his development into the player he is today.
“The Michigan market is definitely one of the best, and playing with those guys with Belle Tire,” Mantha said. “I wasn’t the best at that time and still had to fill in the big body, but it’s good because they’re good and every time they would come down, it would force me to be faster, so it helped me out a lot.”
Playing in a high-profile game like that with plenty of NHL scouts and management in attendance, it could be easy for players to become overwhelmed or succumb to the pressure.
“It means a lot, but you just can’t change your game,” Mantha said of the game. “You hear stories about guys looking at rankings and just changing, but I just try to stick to my game.”
In the NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings of 2014 draft-eligible prospects, Mantha checked in as a ‘B’ skater – the CSS uses A, B and C grades for the players they deem as potential picks next summer.
And success runs in Mantha’s blood, too. His uncle, Moe Mantha Jr., suited up in 656 NHL games over the course of his career. The 17-year-old defender credited his family for the opportunities that have been opened to him throughout his young career.
“It means a lot,” Mantha said. “My family has supported me through it and just great trainers along the way and great coaches.”
Last year, his first in the USHL, Mantha recorded one goal, six assists and a plus-15 rating in 52 games for Sioux City. Looking to this coming season in Sioux City, Mantha said there’s a lot to be excited about in the Musketeers locker room, not just from the standpoint of his own development, too.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Mantha said. “We have a lot of returners and we want to win a Clark Cup, that’s our goal.”