Photo courtesy of Matt Wolfe, Portland Winterhawks
Mason Mannek is in his final season with the Portland Winterhawks and his second straight donning the “A” as an alternate captain. Mannek wasn’t originally drafted by Portland, but rather chose to accept a training camp invite. At the time when he chose Portland, he had another training camp invite from the Calgary Hitmen. However, due to largely to location and being in the United States where he’s from, he chose to attend Portland’s camp. Being from Herriman, Utah it just made sense for him to choose Portland. They ended up protecting him, he attended a couple more camps and the rest is history. This season for Mannek, he’s just glad to be back on the ice playing games with his teammates.
“Yeah, it’s been awesome, of course you know there was kind of a stretch of time there where we were pretty skeptical if anything was going to happen,” Mannek said. “With it being my last year, obviously I’m pretty stoked to get back and I think our core groups of guys came back, it was all the guys I’ve been here forever with.”
Mannek emphasized that he was just going to enjoy it and make the most of the shortened season. He explained how he just goes to the rink every day, enjoys every minute of it and takes it all in. Mannek said it’s just awesome to be back.
When Mannek was 13, he moved to Colorado to play for the Colorado Thunderbirds bantam hockey program and then on to Portland.
“This past year has been awesome just to get a little extra time with my family,” Mannek said.
Mannek was able to go hunting with his dad, go fishing at their cabin and do stuff that he hasn’t been able to do for a very long time. He explained that he definitely missed playing, but that it was awesome being with his family. One thing he mentioned was that he knew his mom enjoyed having him home for once. Despite being away from the rink, he touched on how we’re pretty fortunate these days with social media. He explained the team has their group chats so they talked almost every day. Mannek said it was kind of like they were together in a roundabout way and that it was also awesome to get to do the things he missed.
He explained that they have a bunch of buddies who go up every October to hunt elk and that there’s about 30 of them who just camp and hunt. He said that hunt is at the top of his list, but that the deer hunt is always awesome, but more of a family deal.
“Fishing wise, we’re pretty fortunate in Utah, we have so many options to fish, but we have a cabin on a lake up there,” Mannek said. “We spend pretty much every weekend up there fishing for whatever we can catch.”
Buck Tough brand
Not only is Mannek’s family pretty outdoorsy, but he’s even started his own outdoorsy clothing line brand called Buck Tough. However, the story behind the creation of the brand is a funny story. During the long bus ride to Alberta last year, Mannek explained he was just on his phone surfing the internet trying to pass the time.
“The idea kind of sparked, I was like I wonder how hard it’d be to kind of start my own gig,” Mannek said. “Obviously I wanted it to be around the hunting theme because that’s what I like to do away from the rink.”
He explained that they were in Lethbridge doing a little warm-up after a long bus ride and he was talking to the team to get their thoughts and Cross Hanas gave him the idea for the name.
“It fit like a glove, I was like yep that’s it and then it kind of blossomed from there, it’s been awesome, it’s been kind of a good escape away from the rink to get my mind off hockey so when I come back I’m fully refreshed, but it’s been awesome so far, I’ve really enjoyed it,” Mannek said.
When it came to the inspiration of the name, the ‘Tough’ part is because of his mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer the year prior.
“With that whole journey, she kind of inspired my family in a way in that’s kind of what we branded ourselves as, as cliché as it sounds, it’s tough, we were kind of like a mentally and physically tough family after that,” Mannek said.
He explained in honor of her he wanted to do something along those lines. When Hanas brought up the idea of Buck Tough he said that’s what seemed to really fit.
Return to the rink
While the return to the ice for Portland may look different this season, for Mannek it was like he never left. He explained that when he got back in town and things got going again, everything just fell back in place like before. He said the routines were all similar and that they just got back in the groove of things the way they knew how.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have the facility and the organization that we do to be able to do what we do here on a regular basis so I think settling in wasn’t a problem at all,” Mannek said.
He touched on the fact that the team has a lot of younger players this season and how it was fun to get to know them all, despite the masks and everything else they deal with. For Mannek, this will be his second season donning the ‘A’ as an alternate captain. He explained that being part of the leadership group for an organization like this is something he’ll always take pride in for the rest of his life. When it comes to taking the younger players under his wing from a leadership standpoint, he explained it’s a bit harder this year.
“Last year it was easy to kind of take the young guys under my wing and do what I like to do from a leadership standpoint, and this year I find it’s a little different just ’cause we can’t go to lunch after practice and we can’t hangout together as a group ’cause of all the social distance and all that stuff,” Mannek said.
He explained that they have to do what they have to do to be able to play and they just take advantage of their time at the rink hanging out and talking when they can.
This season and looking to the future
Mannek explained that the younger guys are getting an opportunity this season to get their toes wet and soak in what they can before it really matters next year. When it comes to Mannek and it being his last season, he’s focused on just really enjoying his time at the rink.
“As a 20-year-old, I’m not guaranteed what the future holds for myself, so I think just coming to the rink, enjoy it, really have a good time with the guys, work as hard as I can and then the rest will fall in place,” Mannek said.
When it comes to life after this season, Mannek explained that he thinks he has a couple doors open and take that into full consideration. Mannek really just wants to go to the rink every day, keep playing and if that works then great, but if it doesn’t, then that’s just how the dice are rolled sometimes he said.
“I’m just going to come to the rink every day, enjoy it and yeah after that, whatever’s going to happen, you know everything happens for a reason,” Mannek said.
On ice and crowd aspect as a player
Mannek said it’s hard to explain how cool it is and that obviously they miss the fans this season. However, he said when it comes to the fans, they’re unique because they seem to know the game.
“It’s not like they just scream when there’s a fight or they just scream when there’s a goal, like they seem to follow it really well and it’s always loud, the energy is always super high and obviously the great turnout all the time,” Mannek said. “It makes it easy for us players you know ’cause sometimes we play 68 games in a season, sometimes you get caught going through the motions, but then you go skate out in a sold out Memorial Coliseum and it’s hard not to get goosebumps.”
When it comes to the playoffs, Mannek explained that the transition from the regular season to the playoffs is huge both home and away. He touched on how there’s no room for error, everyone is super dialed in, everyone knows their job and even what every single player on the other team is going to bring. Mannek said you show up to the rink and you have to be ready to work, if you’re not the other team makes you pay and just like that your season is over.
“The energy’s super high, everyone knows exactly what they need to do, exactly what time,” Mannek said. “As far as the crowd goes, it’s always packed here for playoffs, it’s always loud.”
He touched on how away games are always packed and it’s kind of fun when they score and the whole crowd starts booing. Mannek explained that it’s kind of the little details that make playoffs so awesome. In Mannek’s first year, he remembers facing the Spokane Chiefs in round one and going to overtime in two games straight. He explained that it was eye-opening to see what playoff hockey was like, especially in overtime and kind of indescribable to play in.