Mantha's debut with Wings 'dream come true'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Anthony Mantha skated on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar in the morning skate in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Philadelphia — Anthony Mantha was expecting to fly to Texas Monday with the rest of his Grand Rapids Griffins teammates.

But there other plans in the works by the Red Wings.

“Right before we hopped on the plane they told me I wasn’t going on that plan but another one for Philly,” Mantha said. “It was pretty exciting.”

And with that Mantha’s NHL career began. At Tuesday’s morning skate Mantha skated on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar.

Mantha was the net-front presence on a power-play unit and looked comfortable while preparing for his first NHL game which also happens to be the Red Wings’ most important game thus far in the regular season.

“Obviously I heard about the game; it’s the most important one of the season,” said Mantha as the Red Wings hold a three-point lead over Philadelphia for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. “For me, it’s about being ready and try to help the team win. It’s a big two points that we need to get.”

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General manager Ken Holland and coach Jeff Blashill drove Friday to Grand Rapids to watch the Griffins and liked what they saw of Mantha (6-foot-5, 214-pounds), who had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) over the last 13 games.

“We’ve thought about this for a little bit,” Blashill said. “We kind of said let’s look at the possibility of bringing him in, whether it was tonight or Thursday in Columbus. We have, for a while, wanted a bigger body with skill and he’s got that.”

Blashill gave the impression this call-up was going to be for more than just one or two games, or a road trip, and playing him on a scoring line with Datsyuk was a chance for Mantha to show what he can do.

“Our thought process wasn’t this was a one-game thing,” Blashill said. “Our thought process was this is a long-term thing but let’s take it day by day and see what happens.

“We wanted the best Anthony Mantha tonight and going forward and to do that, he has to be in position to succeed, and playing with Pavel, similar to (Dylan) Larkin (who is playing with Henrik Zetterberg), you have a great veteran presence (playing with the rookies) and it matches skill sets well.”

Blashill wanted to make sure Mantha, 21, could handle the ebbs and flows of NHL life before landing a spot in the league.

“I wanted to make sure he had enough time to build confidence that when he hits a tough stretch in the NHL he’s able to overcome those stretches,” Blashill said. “He’s had ample time, talking to the coaching staff, that he’s put himself in a position where he can handle those bumps in the road whether in a period or game or a couple of games.

“He’s a guy that should be a good complement with Pavel, a big body, he can go to the net, and he has a skill set to make a lot of plays.”

After a difficult transition to pro hockey last season, Mantha has thrived in Grand Rapids this season.

A broken tibia in training camp delayed the start of last season and Mantha really got on track once he joined the Griffins, scoring 15 goals (33 points) in 62 games.

Mantha already had 21 goals and 24 assists this season, with a plus-18 rating, and 140 shots on goal.

“Consistency, that’s what they wanted me to focus on for the last year and half and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Mantha said. “It’s been pretty good, so that’s why I’m here right now.”

Mantha’s parents Daniel and Susie, and sisters Barbara and Elizabeth all were scheduled to make the seven-hour drive from Montreal to watch Mantha’s debut, along with several friends.

“It’s a dream come true, not only for me but for the whole family,” Mantha said.