LONDON, ON - The Quebec League's Val-d'Or Foreurs don't boast the same array of NHL draft picks as the other teams at the Memorial Cup, but they do have one of the best players in Detroit Red Wings first-rounder Anthony Mantha. The scoring machine will be needed by his squad as the Foreurs take on the Western League's Edmonton Oil Kings tonight and Mantha actually does have a tie to the WHL champs.
Two summers ago, the big right winger took part in a summer training camp in Los Angeles put on by CAA Hockey, the player agency headed by Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry. The firm also represents Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and the Sedin twins, while this particular camp featured several stars of tomorrow. Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones were there, as was Curtis Lazar, who became a first-rounder himself when the Ottawa Senators nabbed him in 2013. Lazar is now a star center with the Oil Kings.
And while Mantha also knows Lazar from Canada's world junior team, both took part in a seminar at that CAA camp taught by motivational speaker Steve Shenbaum, who has a concept about “coins” that he imparts on participants. These metaphorical “coins” are held in one's pocket and help bring out confidence, key to a young athlete such as Mantha.
“I don't remember much, but he talked about points like family, our potential in hockey, our potential outside of hockey,” Mantha said. “For me, it's maybe golf, family, girlfriends and friends; things like that.”
Along with Shenbaum's class, the players got on-ice training from skills coach Darryl Belfry, hung out with Hollywood titan Jerry Bruckheimer and did training on Venice Beach with T.R. Goodman, the man who helped Chris Chelios play so long in the NHL.
“Seriously, it was a great week,” Mantha said. “We had fun, we did great training, met a lot of people. It was great.”
At one point, Mantha and MacKinnon were hanging out after a workout when MacKinnon, the future No. 1 pick overall in 2013, asked the Val-d'or right winger how his Foreurs looked that year. At the time, Mantha diplomatically told MacKinnon that the team would be young – and compared to MacKinnon's Mooseheads, who would go on to win the Memorial Cup that year, what else could he say? Now, Val-d'Or is fully formed and gunning for a national title. Mantha has been there every step of the way and is happy to have been there for the growing process.
“It was huge,” he said. “At the start of this year, I don't think anybody saw us getting here. We were predicted to be in the bottom five of the standings, but we've proved ourselves to be the big team now.
“We play big. In our own league, we had great success skating around teams. We had a great power play, a great penalty kill – it's just an average of everything.”
Mantha has always been gifted when it comes to goal-scoring, but during his draft year, the knock was on defense and play away from the puck. Nevertheless, eyebrows were raised when the always-deft Red Wings selected him 20th overall. Did Detroit steal another gem through the draft?
This season, Mantha has been on fire with 81 goals in 81 games (including playoffs). In total, he had 158 points. Not only has he maintained his lofty position as a mega-talent in major junior, but it's harder to find knocks on his game.
“I think I progressed in the right way,” he said. “There were complaints about my consistency and I proved everybody wrong about that this year.”