Moe Mantha’s bittersweet decision

February 17, 2016

It wasn’t easy for Moe Mantha to leave the expansion French River Rapids of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League to return to the Ontario Hockey League after a 10-year absence and take over as interim coach of the Saginaw Spirit.

While Mantha had often thought of coaching in the OHL again after a bitter parting of ways with the Windsor Spitfires during the 2005-2006 season, he admitted that it “was not easy” to accept the Saginaw job when Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill came calling earlier this week.

For one, there was the matter of leaving all of the young players who he had been developing in French River.

Then there was the fact that he would be moving away from his recently-widowed mother who lives in nearby Sturgeon Falls, where Mantha has maintained an off-season home for years.

But after talking it over with his wife and his mother, Mantha decided to accept Drinkill’s offer and head to Saginaw to replace fired head coach Greg Gilbert.

“My mom told me that my dad would want me to take the Saginaw job,” Mantha told

So it’s back to the OHL and to Saginaw for Mantha, who previously did an interim stint with the Spirit back in 2003-2004 before leaving for a pro scouting position.

“I am happy to be back in Saginaw and I am thankful to Dave (Drinkill) for the opportunity,” said Mantha, who knows Spirit owner-governor Richard Garber and president-managing partner Craig Goslin from his prior association with the OHL team.

“At the same time,” Mantha continued, “I am leaving a great group of kids in French River who I have a lot of respect for. I have been talking back and forth with a lot of the kids and they know where to reach me if they need me to help them with anything.”

As Mantha takes over a Saginaw team that is in possession of the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 13 games to go in the 2015-2016 regular season, he said his first priority is to try to instill confidence and unity into the Spirit.

“We want to secure a playoff spot and then go into the playoffs ready to compete with what we have,” added Mantha.

With Gilbert as coach, Saginaw made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons but lost in the first round every time and won just one game in the process.

The 55-year old Mantha is no stranger to playoff success as a junior coach.

Prior to returning to his northern Ontario roots in French River last fall, Mantha coached the erstwhile Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League to two North Division championships in four years on the job.

Mantha, who was also in his first season as Saginaw’s northern Ontario scout while coaching in French River, said he isn’t sure what is in store beyond the current campaign.

“Dave and I really don’t know one another all that well,” Mantha said of Drinkill, who is in his first season as Saginaw’s GM. “I am sure when the time is right we will sit down and talk about next season.”

Mantha, who starred as an OHL defenseman with the Toronto Marlies before going on to play in 673 games in the National Hockey League, is a respected man in the game.

Joe Drago, who is the chairman of the board for Hockey Canada, speaks very highly of Mantha.

And shortly after Mantha was hired in Saginaw, guys like Kingston Frontenacs assistant coach John Goodwin and Bruno Bragagnolo, who is the coach-general manager of the NOJHL’s Soo Eagles, were quick to reach out and offer their best wishes.

Many are saying that Mantha is back where he belongs, in the OHL.

To be sure, it can be said that a good hockey guy is getting another shot at coaching in a league where he has unfinished business.

(Photo by Saginaw Spirit.)

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