For many CBJ home games, a group of young fans sit in the upper bowl of Nationwide Arena, cheering on the Jackets, and they know who their hero is–none other than No. 27 Manny Malhotra. Malhotra sponsors the "Manny-ACS" program, one where he buys a block of tickets for underprivileged youth who otherwise probably couldn’t attend a hockey game or any other major sporting event. The Ontario native, a staple of the Columbus lineup, may be only 26 but he debuted in the NHL in 1998 playing for the New York Rangers alongside one of his heroes, Wayne Gretzky. Not surprisingly, the experience of playing with "The Great One" was, well, a great one. Read all of CBJ.com's chat with the man called "Mango" is this week's "Q&A with the CBJ."
(CBJ.com) – Q: What is it about hockey that you love the most?
(Manny) - A: I think it’s just the competition of it. Playing sports my whole life, I think the beauty in it is that you get lost in it for whatever time you’re playing. For those three hours, nothing else matters except for when you’re on the ice, loving playing hockey.
(CBJ.com) - Q: Looking at where you are now as a player and where the Blue Jackets are as a team, what are your team and personal goals for the rest of the season?
(Manny) - A: I really don’t try to set any goals coming into a year. So many things happen and you can kind of get sidetracked by setting goals as opposed to focusing on that team goal. My philosophy is to try not to set too many goals for myself but just take things as they come.
(CBJ.com) - Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your family and growing up in Mississauga, Ontario?
(Manny) - A:I’m the youngest of four kids. We’re a very athletic family. Soccer was our first sport, our first love. Through high school we all played volleyball, basketball and soccer for the high school team, and then I broke off and started playing hockey. I’m the only hockey player in my family. I think being the youngest is where I got my competitive spirit from. I always had to fight for position and some recognition in the household. That was life in my house.
(CBJ.com) - Q: In the past you’ve talked about Cam Neely, famous former forward for the Boston Bruins, as one of the guys you looked up to. Who were some of your heroes growing up?
(Manny) - A: Like I said, “Cammy” was the first real hockey star that I looked up to. But like any other Canadian kid growing up in the 80s, you idolize Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux at that time, too. But first and foremost for me, it was Cam.
(CBJ.com) - Q: What has been highlight of your hockey career so far?
(Manny) – A: I don’t think there’s one particular thing. My whole first year (in the NHL) was special. That was Gretzky’s last year, and he was in New York (with the Rangers) with me, so that was a special time for me, just being around him, learning from him and sitting beside him all the time. You kind of take it for granted how great he is; he’s such a down-to-earth guy. Once his retirement was coming, you started to realize just how big of a superstar he is and the accomplishments he had throughout his career. I was just kind of dumbfounded that a guy this humble was able to produce so many things in his career.
(CBJ.com) – Q: How close were your lockers?
(Manny) – A: We actually sat beside each other. That was pretty cool. I was really nervous the first day I walked in and saw my name beside his name. I went to the trainer and said, “I can’t sit there” (laughing). But the trainer said that I had to.
(CBJ.com) – Q: What’s your favorite meal before a game?
(Manny) – A: I’m usually a pasta guy before games. If I’m cooking at home, I’ll make my own, using sauces with veggies or maybe plain tomato sauce. For the most part, it’s pasta.
(CBJ.com) – Q: What kind of music gets you pumped up?
(Manny) – A: Mostly hip-hop. I’ll listen to whatever is on in the room, but for the most part, on the way to rink or at home, it’s hip-hop. I like the new Nas and the new Jay-Z stuff. The new Snoop Dogg record is good, too. Sometimes, I’ll go old school with some Wu Tang Clan…whatever I’m in the mood for.
(CBJ.com) – Q: If you weren’t playing pro hockey, what would you be doing?
(Manny) – A: I don’t know, I guess I would be following my first love as a kid, and that would be soccer. If not playing I would be doing something with sports for sure like sports medicine or kinestheology.
(CBJ.com) – Q: Who is your funniest teammate?
(Manny) – A: You know what? ‘Johnny’ (Aaron Johnson) has a real good sense of humor. He’s real quiet and kind of stays in the shadows, but he’s really funny. If you pay attention to what he’s saying, there’s something going on with it. He’s got a good sense of humor.
(CBJ.com) – Q: Last question: How would you describe Manny Malhotra in one word?
(Manny) – A: Easy-going.