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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Coach Moe

In the world of public relations. a lot of what I do is calculated and timed. The emotion is removed. It is what it is. That is not what this post is. This post is about a man who helped me continue my career, and looking back on it, probably started it. This man's name is Moe Mantha.

I remember walking into the little office we were stuffed into when I was with the Flint Generals, only this time, the Generals were gone, the walls were bare, the banners had been removed, and I was 19-years old and out of a job. This meeting I was having was with the Michigan Warriors, a tier II junior team that had been relocated from Marquette, Michigan to be the main tenant at then, the Perani Arena. My meeting was with a gentleman named Bobby Dodge, a local business man who was a member of the Flint Generals ownership group. Bobby had been hired by the Warriors to do some consulting work, So I was chatting with Bobby and starting to the get the impression that the Warriors were not going to hire any former members of the Generals staff (and I would not have blamed them). Bobby ended up offering me the job as broadcaster, paying a little over minimum wage and I jumped at it. (Any broadcaster reading this would understand).

A day or two later I came in to meet the coaching staff. A tall, burly man walked in. He put his hand (or bear paw) out and said, "I'm Moe Mantha." I wanted to say nice to meet you, Moe, but the hand shake/vice grip he had me in was a little distracting. We talked for about 20 minutes about the direction of the program and what our message to the fans/public would be. Nothing crazy. Just a quick chat.

As the season began, things were not going so well for the former Marquette Rangers, now Michigan Warriors. We made a couple moves at the trade deadline, and brought in some top-tier talent. Ryan Green, now at University of Windsor, was acquired from Port Huron and the boys were all in. Behind one of the best goaltending performances I have ever seen, the Warriors went on an unprecedented run that propelled them into the 2011 National Championship Game. Moe was struggling. He needed surgery on his right eye. He was sensitive to light and noise. Not something conducive to coaching a hockey game. Moe battled and so did his players. We were 20 minutes away. Up 2-1 with under six minutes left, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs scored three times in 3:52. I was numb, It took me 20 minutes just to begin packing up in that Topeka press box. My colleague Arch Ecker, who was calling the game for Fairbanks, walked over and shook my hand. That meant a lot to me. Arch is a good friend. I walked downstairs and found Moe, I shook his hand and thanked him. He said, "We will see ya next year." Being 18 my rookie year with the Generals, there was so much shit that went down that year I will take with me to my resting place. To hear Moe say confidently that I would be back was soothing.

I came back for a second season. This year was much different. We went from an old team to a very young team. It showed. Without Robert Tadazak (Retired) in net, without Scott Henegar (Huntsville, SPHL) as captain, the team struggled to mesh. Moe was dealing with some health issues during the season and I knew it was really killing him not being at the rink and even missing a couple games behind the bench. This year was strenuous on Moe and our relationship. No matter, he was always honest with me, good or bad, and I still respected the hell out of him.

After one more year with Moe in 2012-13, I decided to explore some other options. I wanted the responsibility of moving away and living on my own so I took a hockey broadcasting job in Odessa, Texas. It was a numbers game, I won't shy away from that. Moe and I both knew the Warriors were going to have a good team in 2013-14. That's how juniors works, but in the NAHL, it's a two-year build instead of three in the OHL. Meanwhile, in Odessa, the Jackalopes, well, no bueno. 15 wins in 2013-14 made for a long year and perhaps some buyers remorse on my part. It didn't help when I saw the Michigan Warriors were blowing through the NAHL Playoffs. A sweep of the Janseville Jets and an upset of the Port Huron Fighting Falcons got the Warriors and Moe into the Robertson Cup Tournament again. Unfortunately, it was the same result for the Warriors. Fairbanks beat them in the Semis. I called Moe to congratulate him. He answered, "HEY, JOEY BAG OF DONUTS." I don't think he knows how to say Battaino. We talked for awhile. I told him about how things were going in Odessa and he sharply put, "Grass is always greener." He never pulled any punches.

In 2015, we both found ourselves out of work. The Michigan Warriors had gone dark with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers relocating to Flint and I was fired from Odessa. With no one else to blame for another 15-win season, I was sent packing. I called Moe. He was headed up to Sturgeon Falls for some fishing and to tend to his father's golf course. I told him I'd help him out anyway I could. Imagine, a 24-year old sixth year broadcaster telling a 12-year NHL veteran with 20+ years of coaching experience that i'd keep my eyes and ears open. Little did I know, Moe would be the one helping me out...again.

Moe ended up coaching a first-year NOJHL team. I got an interview with the Saginaw Spirit. Moe had been interim head coach there once before in 2004, so he knew ownership over there. I interviewed twice. I really felt like it went well, but I think if you really want something, you can be blinded by your own ambition sometimes. I guess Team President Craig Goslin thought it went pretty well because he phoned Moe in July 2015. Craig said, "Moe, tell me about Joey Battaino." Moe says,"Who?" "Joey Battaino, ya know, your broadcaster for three seasons in Flint?" "OH...JOEY BAG OF DOUNTS?" (I told you he didn't know my last name).

I didn't know that phone call had taken place until two weeks after I was hired as the Director of Broadcasting and Communications for the Saginaw Spirit. It was really a dream come true to be back in Michigan. Moe had a huge part in that. My first press release as PR Director of the Spirit was to announce that we had hired Moe Mantha as a Northern Ontario Scout. I hadn't seen Moe all season, as he was coaching his NOJHL team. In Saginaw, the Spirit had dropped eight in a row and fired Greg Gilbert. Moe Mantha was given an opportunity to come back to the OHL and the Saginaw Spirit. Tuesday, I walked into his office in the locker room at The Dow. He had the biggest smile on his face and said "HEY LOOK, IT'S JOEY BAG OF DONUTS".

In an attempt to lighten up the room, Moe told the boys about our journey and my nickname. Moe threw on a suit and met with the media before practice. He was always good about that. As the press gathering commenced, Moe ran back to the room to put his track suit and skates. During the presser, Moe said, "I'm going to make some mistakes and I hope they (the players) cover for me, They will make mistakes and I will cover for them." Knowing Moe, he has something up his sleeve for the first practice. He's a character, I'm watching practice and I'm noticing that the bottoms of the track suit look a little funny. They were backwards. Moe skated the whole practice with his pants on backwards. None of the boys said anything to him, I mean, he busted his ass to get there for the skate. So maybe in a hurry, he just messed up. Finally, as everyone is exiting the ice, a player says, "Moe, you know your pants are on backwards?" Moe smiled and said, "Ah shit boys, it looks like I made my first mistake."

With the ice broken, the Spirit went on to win two of three games at home, beating Sarnia and shocking the Erie Otters, who are the No. 1 team in the Canadian Hockey League.

Moe is a great coach because he lets players and staff be who there are. He is able to do that because he is comfortable in his own skin. I can't speak for all the players Moe has coached, but I know for a fact that the players in my three years in Flint revered Moe Mantha and still talk to him to this day. I know that because I still talk to those players to this day, Our work environment was a family atmosphere.

Now I get the opportunity to work with Moe again. With him on an interim basis, I understand it could only be 13 games. That's the business. But I don't care if it's 13 games or thirteen hundred games, Moe's demeanor on and off the ice makes him one of the best people I have ever worked for and it's and honor to work with him again.

By: Joey Batatino

This is an opinion piece and the thoughts and descriptions in no way exemplify those of the Saginaw Spirit, the Ontario Hockey League, or the Canadian Hockey League.        

Photo Credit: Saginaw Spirit.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

USA Hockey Alienating Hockey Down South with Increased Fighting Rules

By: Joey Battaino

By now we have all heard about the rule changes that USA Hockey implemented during their Annual Congress last week in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The council recommended and passed stricter fighting rules for Tier I and Tier II players, including a 10-minute misconduct to accompany a five minute major for any fight during the course of a game.

Of course, we must not forget about the children, who according to USA Hockey's VP for the Junior Council John Vanbiesbrouck, would be helpless to gain any information about the connections to fighting and head trauma, if it were not for USA Hockey imposing rules on them.

"Our efforts in player saftey include a concerted focus on eliminating dangerous behavior in junior hockey,"

STOP! We are ALREADY on a very slippery slope on what USA Hockey considers "dangerous" as it is. By this logic, Open-ice body checks are dangerous. Are we on the road to eliminating checking in the junior ranks?

Many people will look at that last paragraph and see an overreaction. I have a feeling that owners of teams down south may be right on track with my thinking.

Lets take a look at the NAHL's South Division in the 2013-14 season, which had six out of their seven members in the top 10 in attendance. Lone Star (North Richland Hills, TX) was 11th.

According to, the South Division partook in 245 of the 348 fights in the league last season. In fact, the top four teams in fighting Corpus Christi, Rio Grande Valley, Amarillo, and Wichita Falls all compete in the South Division. This is hardly a coincidence, folks.

Rough house hockey south of the Mason-Dixon dates back to 1996 and the birth of the Western Professional Hockey League. In a time where folks still didn't know the North Stars moved to Dallas, a new professional hockey league took shape in nontraditional hockey markets like Rio Rancho, NM, Austin, Amarillo, and Waco. Attendance numbers soared and expansion soon followed for this rough and tumble league. The birth of the WPHL has been what has arguably kept the Stars in Dallas. Hear me out, here. Was the popularity of the Stars, just in Big D, enough to keep them in Dallas? No. They needed neighboring regions to buy in. The Stars needed the WPHL and in turn the WPHL needed the Stars. And just like the NAHL needs the South Division, the South Division needs fighting. Not a rodeo circus every night, but fans down here need to know that part of their entertainment value in a ticket is the chance that a fight will break out. That was what their hockey values were built on. Think of the first time you saw the game of hockey. Growing up in Michigan in the early 90's, I saw both sides of the game. Steve Yzerman would gracefully carry himself around the ice creating plays for his line mates, while big, bruising Bob Probert would barrel his way through defenders and not think twice about it. For many in the south, the first time they saw the game they were witnessing Jacques Mailhot fighting security guards in full hockey gear on the concrete in Rio Rancho. They thought that is what hockey was. People grew used to this style of hockey that contined into the last 2000's when the pro hockey model became much too expensive for smaller markets. Teams in the south switched to juniors to save a few bucks but not to sell their stripes. Amarillo, Topeka, Odessa, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, and Rio Grande Valley all continued to play the styles that had made them successful in the past.

My biggest fear in all of this is that I am not entirely convinced that the Tier II product can survive without fighting. Tier II provides an opportunity for players who might not have the speed or skill to compete at the Tier I level, a chance to get a Division I scholarship. What is never highlighted by the league, for obvious reasons, is it's physical, sometimes over-the-edge type play. I'll cite one major example. Weekly, the league requests members send in what they think are the top plays of the week. Not once this season, was a fight, or even a hit, highlighted. Hits and Fights can change the outlook of a hockey game and can be just as important as a goal or save. It's a game built on momentum.  

At the end of the day, I don't think we are giving enough credit to the kids who are coming up to play juniors. With so much talk about head trauma awareness, isn't there enough information available to players that they can make their OWN educated decision on whether it is safe for them to fight or not? When I was younger, it was simple. If you are not a fighter, you put on a cage. A visor was as good as a welcome mat. If you were tough you didn't hide behind the cage because at that time, the rules didn't protect players who wore cages. Everything and everyone was fair game, as it should be.

Proponents to these rule changes will say that this is one step closer to eliminating fighting in junior hockey all together. With the information provided above, it would seem that we are one step closer to eliminating hockey in the South all together.

This is an opinion piece and in no way reflects the views of the Odessa Jackalopes, the NAHL, or any of it's members.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Touch with my Roots

By: Joey Battaino

About two months back, I chipped my tooth (on a french fry of all things) and lost a filling. Being as stubborn I am, I let the thing fester until it finally needed a root canal. Ironically enough, it was a visit to the Dentist for a root canal that got me in touch with my hockey "roots" again.

Before we started the procedure, the Dentist and I shared a few words. He seemed like a nice enough guy and was asking me about myself. I told him I moved to Odessa from Michigan last summer. These days in Odessa, most people are relocating for an oil field job so when I told him I packed it all up and moved 1,500 miles for a hockey job, he was really interested. He asked me about the crowds these days and the differences between pro and junior and like a good solider, I answered all his questions about the Jacks. Then, as he went to insert the dental dam into my mouth, he noticed a pop in my jaw that has been there as long as I can remember. He asked, "You don't have lock jaw, do you?" I quickly replied, "Nope, I got hit in the face with a puck and it's done that ever since, doc"

He then began what was an hour and 45 minute procedure. I spent most of the time with my eyes closed and trying to breathe out of the little space left in the dental dam. Doc noticed at one point that I had opened my eyes and I could tell he wanted to ask me something. He says, "Why does the hair that grows on one spot of your chin white?"

I think Doc forgot I had the fucking dental dam in. I tried to muster a response but he couldn't make out what I was trying to say. Eventually, the tooth was dug out, the posts were put in, and I was ready to go. Doc removed the dental dam and I said, "I got a stick," Doc gave me a puzzled look. Apparently he had forgotten about what he asked 30 minutes earlier. "The spot on my chin. It's a scar. The hair that does grow is white," At that point, Doc said a line that I may never forget. I don't even think he knows it. It was one of those things that you can say that may not mean a thing to you, but hits like none other to someone else. Doc says, "You've really given a lot to hockey," I took a second, looked him in the eye and said, "All I have,"

It was the most honest thing I could've have said.

Doc looked at me different the rest of the visit. He knew what I was. He knew that this is my love. My passion. My game. I really didn't think about it until I got home tonight. Why I answered the way I did and what it meant. I've always had the, "I'm all in," attitude when it comes to broadcasting, mostly because of hockey. That, and I love to entertain. Some days I have to pinch myself, and make sure this is real. In two weeks, I'm collecting a check for this. We've all been guilty of complaining about the things we don't have, instead of admiring the things we do. The constants for me are Jesus Christ and Hockey, and depending on the times in my life, sometimes in the opposite order. But maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place if we had more, "I'm all in," people. This is my calling. I was born for this, and I'm not going to worry if my roots are showing. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Thank You to the People of Flint

As most of you know, I've decided to make a career move to Odessa, Texas to become the play-by-play broadcaster for the Odessa Jackalopes. As I embark on this new journey, I'd like to thank Peter South and Jason Muzzatti, who gave me my first broadcasting gig with the Flint Generals back in 2009-10. I would also like to thank Pat McEachern, Moe Mantha, Bob Bryant, Bobby Dodge, and Firland Management for sticking with me and giving me an opportunity with the Michigan Warriors.

It has been an honor and a pleasure calling the action for the fans of Flint hockey teams for the past four seasons. So many memories were made on and off the ice. I was lucky enough to call back-to-back championship series, (In 2009-10 with the Generals and 2010-11 with the Warriors) and three straight NAHL Top Prospects Tournaments.

I want to thank the Media. Brendan Savage (formerly of The Flint Journal) and Ross Maghielse, Greg Molzon and Ryan Slocum of ABC 12, and Scott Johnson at WNEM TV5. I would like to thank Jerry Noble and the entire Cumulus family for two great seasons on Supertalk 1570 WWCK. Most of all I'd like to thank the fans. It was awesome to see so many fans would come to the rink to support the team, and yet still listen to the game on their transistor radio or smartphone. It made me feel like it was all worth while. I'll miss you, Flint! We had a great ride.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Favorite Spots to Grab a Bite in the North Division

By: Joey Battaino

When you're a broadcaster on a trip with the fellas, you can only prep and gather content so much before there is a bit of down time. Sometimes you might take a dip in the hotel pool or have an "off the record" with coach, but even then, a mans gotta eat. Today I take you around the North division and tell you my favorite spots to snag some grub.

For breakfast, it has to be Frank's Place in beautiful Sault Saint Marie. Frank's is small diner located on Portage right across from the Soo Locks. The people there are great. The breakfast spread is unbelievable and always fresh. French toast and pancakes or fresh fruit, if that's your forte. All you can eat buffet style, so you always get your money's worth, at least I do. You go ahead and try to get between Coach Mantha and the sticky buns from Frank's, I wouldn't do it.

Pre-game meal is a special time for the players, coaches, and myself. Players chat it up before the game, in a final moment before they lay it all on the line for 60 minutes. Coaches talk about final lineup adjustments. Who's in and who's out? What goalie should we go with tonight? For me, it's a chance to revisit some notes I have before the game. Pre-game meal is important for the broadcaster because this is our chance to avoid the dreaded, "Concession stand food" With the departure of Jamestown, I will take you to Janesville, WI and the, "Like Grandma used to make" taste of The Italian House. This has been the host spot for the Janesville Jets for as long as I have been in the league. The restaurant embraces it's relationship with visiting teams by having all the players sign a plate from the restaurant, and hanging it up on the wall. Now me, being full blooded Italian, may be a tad biased, but this food is the closest I've tasted to Olga's (my grandma) pasta. The chicken parm sandwiches are excellent as well. No need for a concession stand trip after a meal at The Italian House.

There you have it. If you are even in Janesville, WI or the Soo, make sure you check out these locations when you need to replenish. Enjoy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Michigan Warriors Off-Season Update

By: Joey Battaino

The NAHL draft is complete, the tender list is filled, and it is almost time for main camp at Flint's Iceland Arena. Yes, another season of Warriors hockey is drawing near. After last seasons disappointing finish, the Warriors look to have the roster that could return them to their glory days of 2010-11.

Lets start with an injury update on Zack Szajner. I exchanged text messages with Szajner about a week ago. He had just taken his first skate since he tore a muscle in his groin on March 15th in Janesville. All signs point to Szajner being ready for camp on July 16th.

Warriors draft pick D David Hopfer (94) is participating in Muskegon's open camp, this week. Making that team could be a blessing for Hopfer, as the Warriors are set to return all seven defenseman from last season. However, defensive depth is not something the Warriors have had in the past two seasons. The coaching staff is very high on Hopfer and will certainly give him playing time, if he earns it.

The one guy that I can't wait to see play is Scott Cuthrell. Sure, the numbers are gaudy (88 points in 46 games last season in Cleveland) but the question that everyone wants to know is will he be able to have that same success at the tier II level? Most tier III players don't, however I don't think the Warriors coaches are banking on 50+ points from Cuthrell this season. Returners like Colin Larkin, Connor Lyons, and Zack Szajner will help carry the scoring load along with a maturing A.J Marcinek, and a healthy Brad Pizzey.

I'll have updates for you throughout the off-season. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

NAHL Playoffs: North Division Play-in Picks

Since my Warriors are out of the playoff picture for the first time since moving from Marquette, I can give you my non-biased picks for the 1st round of the NAHL Robertson Cup playoffs. Unlike other writers, I'm only going to make picks on the teams I watch.

North division Play-in (Best of 3)

3 Kalamazoo (35-19-6) vs. 6 Springfield (26-30-4)

If you're Kalamazoo, there's only one thing you have to worry about in this series. Brett Skibba. If he catches fire, Springfield has a prayer. Kalamazoo will light up Springfield goaltending so they'll need Skibba to keep pace. This will be a short series as Marc Fakler will give em the "Win it for Fozzie" speech. K-Zoo in a 2 game sweep.

4 Port Huron (32-24-4) vs. 5 Johnstown (27-21-12)

This should be a good match-up. Port Huron won the season series, 6-2 and they finished the year on an 8-game winning streak. Like it or not, the winner of this series may be determined by who gets the officiating duties. If Johnstown is allowed to play their rough and tumble style with no consequence, this may frustrate Port Huron's stars. I like Port Huron in 2. Johnstown just doesn't have enough scoring punch to fly with the Falcons.