He is demanding but fair.
He is tough but has a soft side.
He is not easy to play for but his players play hard for him.
He is 53-year old Moe Mantha and he is the old-school coach of the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League.
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio — where his dad, Moe Sr., was in the midst of a 16-year career as a minor-league defenceman — but he grew up in Northern Ontario and still maintains a summer home in Sturgeon Falls.
He starred in the Ontario Hockey League with the Toronto Marlboros before embarking on a National Hockey League career that spanned 673 games as a journeyman defenceman with the Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota North Stars and Philadelphia Flyers.
He has been coaching since 1993 — which was the year he stopped playing — and has been around hockey since he first laced up the skates as a pre-schooler.
“Hockey, it’s what I know,” Mantha told me during a recent appearance on the Hockey North Show that I host on ESPN 1400 Radio.
Mantha also knows that playoff hockey is different than regular-season play.
“There is not much room for error in a short playoff series,” said Mantha. “One bad shift, one bad goal can cost you the season.”
To be sure, Mantha’s Warriors are playing playoff-style hockey this spring.
Second-place finishers in the North Division during the 2013-2014 regular season with 70 points in 60 games from a record of 30-20-10, the Warriors are 5-0 thus far in the playoffs and one win away from advancing to the NAHL’s Robertson Cup Tournament with the champions of the Central, Midwest and South divisions.
The Warriors swept Janesville Jets in three straight games in the opening round of the playoffs and are up 2-0 on the top-seeded Port Huron Fighting Falcons heading home to Flint on Friday for Game 3 of the best-of-five North Division finals.
“I like the way we’ve been playing,” Mantha said evenly. “We’ve been playing non-stop in all four corners of the rink each and every game and we’ve been getting good goaltending.
“When we get the total team effort that we have been getting and when we play tough, disciplined hockey, we are tough to beat. Having said that, the series with Port Huron is not over. It’s a best-of-five and we still need to win another game if we are going to make it to the Robertson Cup.”