French River Rapids of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League have landed a highly-respected, well-known name to be their first-ever coach and general manager, HockeyNewsNorth.com has confirmed.
54-year old Moe Mantha, who grew up in Sturgeon Falls and became a first-round, Ontario Hockey League draft pick of the Toronto Marlboros before going on to play in 673 National Hockey League games as a journeyman defenceman, will return home to head up the new NOJHL entry in the French River town of Noelville.
Noelville is only about a half-hour drive from Sturgeon Falls, where Mantha has long maintained a home near the golf course that his parents have owned and operated for many, many years.
Following his lengthy NHL playing career, which began as a second-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1980 and ended with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1992, Mantha immediately turned to coaching in the American Hockey League.
Since then, Mantha has made various coaching stops in the AHL, the OHL, with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and for the past five seasons — this one included — with the Flint-based Michigan Warriors of the Tier 2 junior, North American Hockey League.
The Warriors were forced out of town following the 2014-2015 season to make room for the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, formerly the Plymouth Whalers.
During his five seasons in the NAHL, Mantha coached the Warriors to two North Division championships and two appearances at the league’s national tournament.
Mantha called his decision to return to his northern Ontario roots to take the coaching job in French River “something that just feels right. My wife and I had been talking for the past few years about maybe moving back up north and finding a good coaching fit.
“I am happy and comfortable with this decision,” Mantha added. “The NOJHL is a good league that is growing and has a good reputation with Rob Mazzuca as commissioner.”
Allan Donnan, who owns both the expansion French River team and the Iroquois Falls Eskimos of the NOJHL, was ecstatic to be able to reach a deal with Mantha.
“Moe is a hockey guy with a fantastic reputation and a resume as a player and coach that speaks for itself,” Donnan began. “We are thrilled beyond belief to bring a good old northern Ontario boy and a man of Moe’s character and stature to French River and to the NOJHL.”
The new French River Rapids are awaiting Northern Ontario Hockey Association approval as the NOJHL’s newest entry, slated to begin play effective the 2015-2016 season.
PHOTO: Moe Mantha, circa 1980, as a second-round, National Hockey League draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets.