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Backchecking: Dave Manson's soft, but heavy words

Dave Manson still talks in hushed tones due to throat injury, but the rugged rearguard’s message about the future of fighting is telling.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

One of the NHL’s most prominent pugilists of all-time says take a good look at fighting now, because you won’t see it much longer.

Dave Manson, a former NHL defenseman and now an assistant coach with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, says the game of hockey has evolved to the point where fisticuff action is getting phased out.

“Long gone are the days when an enforcer would be there to fight then sit on the bench, only playing two minutes a night,” Manson said. “You have to be able to keep up and make plays. You have to be able to play as an enforcer. You need four lines that can play hockey.”

Manson was a frequent fighter – he ranks 13th in all-time penalty minutes with 2,792 – but he also had a booming shot and was rock solid in his own end for 1,103 games over 16 seasons. Not only is Manson seeing face-punchers being replaced by speedsters and specialists on the fourth line, he’s noticing a changing attitude in the acceptance of fighting. Concussions have become an important word in the hockey vernacular.

“The people that set the rules are trying to get concussions out of the game,” Manson said. “If they want it out, eventually it’s going to be out.”

Manson was a rare, dying breed in that he was valuable from a variety of perspectives – great shot, smooth on the power play, tough in the corners and a brute as a fighter for six NHL teams, most notably Chicago. While most fans recall the latter, it’s worth mentioning he had 54 points during his third year in the league and six other seasons in which he had 28 or more points. A lot of very good defensemen won’t reach the 102 goals he scored.

Another of Manson’s calling cards was his raspy voice. During a 1992 fight with Sergio Momesso, Manson was punched directly in the throat, permanently damaging his vocal cords to the point he could only speak softly. At the time, Manson said he’d get that issue cleared up surgically upon retirement, but numerous procedures since haven’t been able to correct the problem.

Now 13 years removed from his last NHL game, Manson still talks in whispers. “I look weekly to try and find a new technology or surgery that can repair it,” he said.

Manson doesn’t let his vocal imperfections hold him back from doing the things he loves. Upon his retirement in 2002, a coaching vacancy opened up with his alma mater in Prince Albert. He’s been an assistant with the Raiders since, minus the few seasons he took off to coach his own children.

Manson’s style of coaching is one that doesn’t involve yelling, not only because he is physically unable to, but because that’s his preference. “If I have something to say to a player, I’d rather just go up and talk nicely about it,” Manson said. “Everybody communicates differently. I just know that I didn’t like it when I was yelled at as a player.”

Also keeping the Manson name alive in hockey is Dave’s son Josh, a 2011 sixth-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks. Josh chose the NCAA route and attended Northeastern University for three years. The defenseman is in his second NHL season.

Away from the game, Manson, 49, is a family man, but also likes to golf, hunt and fish, and he cherishes his peaceful time on the outskirts of Prince Albert. “I’m keeping busy doing things that dads like to do,” he said. “I’m a terrible fisherman, but I enjoy it because it’s a private activity.”

This is an edited version of a feature that appeared in the February 15 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.



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