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Mantha tapping into his inner aggression

Power forward will add boxing to his offseason training regime

by Arthur J. Regner @arthurjregner /

DETROIT - Anthony Mantha is a thinking man's hockey player.

He has a cerebral approach to his game which makes him extremely coachable and receptive to constructive criticism.

That's not to imply that the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Mantha is a wallflower when it comes to mixing it up on the ice. He plays with an edge and has acquitted himself quite well when he's dropped the gloves.

But this offseason, Mantha will be picking up another set of gloves, hoping to boost his on-ice aggression.

When the Red Wings were cleaning out their lockers on Tuesday, Mantha was asked what he needed to work on this offseason to build on his 48-point season in which he led the Red Wings with 24 goals.

"I will be doing a little bit of power skating for sure. You can never get enough speed or edge work, so that's going to be one thing, and work on some grit in the offseason," Mantha said. "I talked with (coach Jeff Blashill) and (general manager Ken Holland) this morning, so maybe do a couple boxing lessons to maybe get that grit going for next year.

"It's really more for the grit to find that extra, maybe to get angry a little bit more, not necessarily to fight next year, that's not the message they want, they just want extra grit."

This will not be the first time Mantha has stepped into the ring. Two years ago, he spent the summer in Detroit adding muscle. He also took a few boxing lessons, and during his junior days, he dabbled a bit in pugilism.

According to Mantha, boxing is "actually a good workout program."

Blashill explained why he believes boxing will elevate Mantha's overall play.

"I think Anthony still has to learn there's more inside. There's more there," Blashill said. "Sometimes my 12-year-old, he thinks he works hard and I say to him, 'No, you gotta work harder.' But he doesn't know what that's like. And until you know what it's like, until you've been pushed past that brink, it's hard to understand that there's more in you.

"In Anthony's case, boxing was something him and I talked about, I think we actually talked about trying to find a psycho boxing teacher who would beat you to a pulp - not only physically but just in terms of the training, to where you don't think you have anything left and he demands another 45 minutes out of you. And then you find a way to do that."

With another extended summer for the Red Wings, Blashill said it would allow Mantha to get more than just physical benefits out of boxing.

"Greg Cronin, the assistant for the Islanders, actually told me about it a long time ago. It teaches people how to handle fear. Not fear of getting hit necessarily but fear of life and overcoming that, and not having any fear at all. But I also think it brings out aggression. I think with Anthony, I just want him to continue to see that there's more there in terms of pushing himself beyond his comfort level. I'm hoping that summer training can push himself beyond his comfort level.

"If he comes back and has the same year next year that he had this year, not good enough. We need guys to make significant steps. There's teams in this league that last year were out (of the playoffs) and this year are in, and if you look at it, certain individual players made real significant steps. That's what we need from guys that have that biggest area of growth."

Mantha understands what Blashill's expectations are for him to reach his full potential as an elite player. He was happy with his season but far from satisfied.

"Obviously, I didn't reach the goals I wanted personally and as a team, also, we didn't reach them. But just in general, I think it's been a big learning year for me and I took steps forward," Mantha said. "It's a learning process for everyone around here. Like Blash said, over the years, he learned and he keeps learning. All the young players need to step up next year. All the older guys need to step up, so just as a whole, our team could get better this offseason and come back stronger."

It was a conversation at mid-season between Mantha and Blashill that changed the dynamic for the player and coach.

"I've had Anthony a long time. It's not like this is just a new growth process. Those buttons can change as people mature. I know with Anthony, we had a bit of a heart to heart going into the New Jersey game, I think in January. I was trying with Anthony to make sure he understands what it's going to take to make him the very best player he can be.

"Through that process, we've shown him comparable clips. Clips when he's doing it right and clips when he's not doing it right. One thing he said to me was, 'Can you show me what you're talking about?' I said, 'Absolutely.' So, we've tried to do that on a regular basis.

"I think one of the biggest, (most) important things on getting the best out of people is finding ways to connect with them. I think the player gets to a realization where they understand what you're trying to do is get the very best out of them. You're not picking on them. When they understand that, then there can be real growth."

This will also a big offseason for Mantha because he just finished the last year of his three-year, entry-level deal, making him a restricted free agent this summer.

Unlike his offseason boxing plans, Mantha isn't expecting a fight with the Red Wings. When the team was in Los Angeles last month, Mantha's agent, Pat Brisson, told him how the process usually goes.

"He told me what he thought was going to happen is that Ken (Holland) or the coaching staff or the organization here is going to take a month or two to just settle in and compare probably stats and contracts of other players and then they'll reach out," Mantha said. "Pat told me usually they give two or three options of contracts and we choose one. I'm pretty excited to see how that goes, to be honest.

"Obviously, I want to sign here again and I want to be here. I hope it doesn't take too long into the summer. I hope we get things settled pretty soon and have my head resting instead of stressing out the whole summer."

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