| The Detroit News
Detroit – Anthony Mantha was at Little Caesars Arena Thursday, taking a physical, joining meetings and getting ready for Friday’s first practice of Red Wings’ training camp.
The Wings’ last game was about 10 months ago, and Mantha hasn’t been in an organized hockey environment since, so he appreciated the arrival of camp.
“One hundred percent,” Mantha said.
Mantha looked at the last 10 months wistfully. The 26-year-old has never been away from hockey for so long.
“It’s been rough, it’s been long, obviously,” said Mantha. “But the other positive point we can take out of it is everyone is excited to be back at the rink, excited to get going. So hopefully we carry that into the season and just have fun playing the game we have a chance to do for a living.”
Mantha signed a four-year contract worth $22.8 million in the offseason, cementing his status as an integral part of the Wings’ future. A restricted free agent, Mantha was looking for a lengthy commitment, and he received it.
With that, Mantha is eager to help the Wings move out of their current rebuild into brighter days eventually.
Step one, in Mantha’s mind, is to put last season’s misery of a season far away from their thoughts. Because of the rapid pace of this coming season, that might be easy to do.
“We need to kind of forget about last year,” said Mantha of the Wings’ NHL-worst 39 points. “This is a quick (56-game), new season. The tempo will be real high starting in camp and we need to bring that intensity, that way of playing hockey, to the start of this season.”
Mantha has been hearing the predictions of another long, losing Wings season, as have many of Detroit’s other players. Most analysts predict that the Wings will remain in the cellar, this time in the newly-formed Central Division cellar.
But that could fuel the Wings, Mantha believes.
“We want to prove people wrong,” Mantha said. “It’s been the message for two years now, and yes, we’re in a rebuild mode, but we want to get to the next step. We don’t want to be in rebuild mode for five more years. We want to finish it (rebuild) this year. This is our chance.
“We had a great start last year, so hopefully we can get a great start (this season) and build off of it and keep things going to a playoff push.”
The Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi line has been the Wings’ one consistent source of offense the last couple seasons.
Mantha had 38 points (16 goals) in 43 games last season, shortened as it was by injuries and the pandemic.
Injuries because of fighting have cut short Mantha’s last three seasons. But it didn’t sound as if Mantha was going to totally leave the physical part of his game behind anytime soon.
“It’s going to be physical games, you’re playing teams seven or eight games this season (in the new schedule format), you can’t be on your heels, you have to put pressure on them,” Mantha said. “That’s the mentality I have to go with.”
Mantha is looking forward to the divisional realignment. The chance for new rivalries, with the potential for a lot of emotion given all the games against each other, including back-to-backs, could make for exciting hockey.
“It’ll be different experience,” Mantha said. “If there’s a lot of hitting in game one, you have to be ready for a physical game the second night. It’ll be hard on the body but it’s the same thing for both teams.
“It’s really who wants it more.
“It’s hard to tell at this point. We’re playing so many games in such a tight schedule, maybe the physicality will wear off a little bit. But there will be new rivalries created over this season, for sure.”
With Stanley Cup finalists Tampa Bay and Dallas, along with several other tough playoff contenders in the Central Division, Mantha knows it won’t be easy for the Wings to climb the standings.
“Our division is stacked,” Mantha said. “It’ll be a great challenge for us. If we want to prove people wrong, those are the teams we have to beat.”