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Manney goes from Air Force One to Andover bench boss

Retired airman served country for more than two decades in the U.S. Air Force

by Brian Halverson / Special to

As time wound down on the Xcel Energy Center scoreboard clock, Mark Manney stood nervously at the top of section 123 in his new No. 10 Minnesota Wild home jersey with his last name across the back.

The retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, and current Andover High School boys' varsity hockey coach, was moments away from asking Wild fans to say "Let's Play Hockey" with him prior to Minnesota's Military Appreciation Night matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. 

Addressing the Team of 18,000 wasn't what concerned him, though.

"We spent 17 years living in D.C. and my kids are probably wearing red jerseys tonight," Manney said. "I've been worried all week I was going to say, 'Let's go Caps.'"

But Manney proudly stood in front of a crowd which included more than 1,000 active or retired military members and delivered his line perfectly like a man who has seen his share of pressure situations.

"It's always an honor to represent men and women in uniform and I'm proud of my military career," Manney said. "It's something you always wonder if you may get a chance to do someday and I figured we'd have to win a state championship to do it."

Manney is a nearly 23-year veteran of the United States Air Force who retired in 2004 as the Deputy Commander of the Presidential Airlift Group which is another way of saying he piloted Air Force One for the President of the United States. Manney spent the final six years of his career exclusively flying missions in support of the President - two years with President Bill Clinton and four years with President George W. Bush.

Manney was in the pilot's seat when President Bush visited U.S. troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving of 2003, one of the more dangerous missions of his tenure based, he says, on the intelligence they had received.

"We figured we could get in there," Manney said. "It was once the word got out that the President was in the country that might mobilize all the bad guys and getting out of there might be a real challenge."

The cockpit on Air Force One is on a different floor than the passenger level so there is not a lot of interaction between the pilots and the President according to Manney. But he added that the President would often bring guests up to the cockpit and introduce them. Manney says he found President Clinton to be "an incredibly personable guy."

"Like a lot of successful people, when he talked to you he made you feel like the most important person in the room," Manney said. "That's something that really stuck with me."

On President Bush, Manney said he was not one who had a lot of time for idle chit chat or to stand around and swap stories.

"But in a much different way, he was maybe one of the most considerate and caring people I've ever been around," Manney said. "We were never late anywhere we went because he said that is a poor reflection on him. So he was always on time or early getting to the airplane."

Among the most memorable flights of Manney's time at the controls of Air Force One are flying President Bush to New York City shortly after 9/11 where he made his notable flatbed speech and a Feb. 2003 flight to Houston for the Space Shuttle Columbia memorial service when President
Bush invited special guests Neil Armstrong and Senator John Glenn to accompany him.

Halfway through the flight the astronauts made their way up to the cockpit.

"They said they just kind of felt like they might be a little more comfortable up there rather than sitting with all the other passengers," Manney said. "We have two jump seats on the airplane where guys can kind of sit right behind the pilots and they sat there for an hour and a half and we were able to ask a lot of questions about their experiences."

Born in Morris, Manney was initially raised raised on a nearby farm his father inherited from his parents at the tender age of 19 years old. The family moved to Bemidji and spent six years there where he developed his hockey skills playing shinny with his buddies on the outdoor rink of Cameron Park, not far from where Manney's Andover team will face Minnetonka on Jan. 19 as part of Hockey Day Minnesota.

Manney did not play organized hockey until sixth grade when he made the peewee team in Bemidji. After one more season, his family took his talents to Moorhead where he began to shine as a Spud.

Video: Wild players thank military members past and present

"Moorhead was significantly behind Bemidji back in those days," Manney said. "So when I got to Moorhead I was one of the better players and it kind of allowed me to enjoy it a little more."

Manney parlayed a stellar high school career under coach Terry Shercliffe at Moorhead into an opportunity to compete collegiately at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Despite, and to a degree in spite of, his parents' encouragement, it was a chance Manney nearly squandered. 

"Like most teenagers, my parents didn't know very much," Manney said. "But my dad's friends kind of cornered me one day and told me it was a great opportunity, hockey or not, that I would probably regret later on if I didn't at least give it a try."

Similar to his family's hockey background, Manney had no military history to draw upon and had no idea what to expect when he left for school. Ironically, his flight to Colorado was his first time on an airplane.

"I really was just eyes wide open trying to find my way," Manney said. "Just trying to survive each day. It wasn't a very fun place to go at the time and the academic load was very strong."

Manney accumulated 55 goals and 120 points in 100 career games (1980-83) as a Falcon. His 53 points (27-26--53) as a junior in 1981-82 led the team in scoring and his 15 power-play goals that year remain a Falcons' single-season record he shares with two others.

After graduation, Manney spent a year of pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Okla., and, upon receiving his wings, was assigned to fly C-141s at the 63rd Military Airlift Wing, Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino, Calif. where, over the course of six years, he became the base's highest qualified pilot.

Beginning in June of 1991, Manney spent over seven years on Special Duty Assignment at Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base flying C-20s, a military version of the Gulfstream III and IV aircraft, transporting foreign and domestic dignitaries. From there, Manney was selected in late 1998 to be a member of the Presidential Pilot's Office which eventually landed him in the cockpit of Air Force One.

Upon his retirement, Manney, his wife Mary, daughter Morgan and son Nick continued to live in the Washington D.C. area for three years before moving to Andover in 2007 to be closer to Mary's family.

Manney says his plan was to just be a hockey dad but was talked into joining the staff of his son's Andover peewee team. He agreed to become the head coach the following season while also accepting an assistant position with the Andover boys varsity.

All this while his son played bantam hockey.

"So I went from having no desire to coach to the head peewee coach, the assistant high school coach and trying to catch my son playing bantam games," Manney said. "The rink got to be a home for a year."

After one mind-spinning season, he was offered and accepted the Andover varsity head coaching job and stepped down from the Andover peewee bench. In nine seasons guiding the Huskies, Manney has compiled a 123-106-11 record, including a school-best 22-6-0 mark in a 2017-18 season which saw Andover advance to the Section 7AA final before falling to Duluth East in overtime.

Earlier this year, Manney got the unique opportunity to watch one of his former players achieve Olympic success when Maddie Rooney, a Minnesota-Duluth standout who played on his 2014-15 Andover boys' team, won gold for Team USA's women's hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

According to Rooney, that season playing on the boys' team remains one of her favorites, in large part because of Manney.

"He gave me the opportunity to give myself the ultimate challenge playing for boys' team," Rooney said by phone from Duluth. "He gave me a fair shot and believed in me. He's just been such a positive role model in my life, not only this past year but since high school in general."

Manney says it took a lot of guts for Rooney to play in that team and always respected her courage considering there was no fallback option for her to go back to the girls' team.

"Just observing her everyday, she's the most professional person at that age I'd ever been around in hockey or otherwise," Manney said. "When she got to the rink it was work time. There was no social life, she just wanted to become a better player.

"To see anyone achieve their dream is special and you kind of swell up with pride, especially when it's something that maybe you had a small part to do with."

Humbled by the pre-game honor on the heels of Veterans Day, Manney admits he tried to convince himself to turn down the opportunity saying he feels like there are so many more deserving people before him.

"A good chunk of my career was spent in the comfort of a cockpit rather than a foxhole or sleeping on the side of a sand dune somewhere," Manney said. "I have so much respect for those guys who've been right on the tip of the spear that I wish that one of those guys had the

"There's so many who've given so much for this country and I wish all of them could be saying it with me."

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