A Coach's Journey: Troy Mann
Updated: Apr 18, 2019
Troy Mann's love for the game of hockey began early, growing up in the Gaspé Peninsula. The 49-year-old was born in the small northern New Brunswick town of Campbellton in 1969 and raised in New Richmond, Quebec.
"It was hockey all the time, it really was," said Mann, reflecting on his childhood. "I grew up in a typical Canadian family," continued Mann ruminating. "We had an outdoor rink in the backyard; my Dad was a big hockey fan." Trent, Troy's younger brother of four years also picked up the hockey gene, playing goal growing up and turning professional, he now serves as the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Ottawa Senators.
Due to a lack of opportunity in eastern Canada, a fresh-faced, 16-year-old Mann made the move to Ontario to pursue his hockey career. Boarding with his aunt and uncle in Brampton, he joined the Metro Jr. B Hockey League's Bramalea Blues as a play-making pivot.
The Greater Toronto Area became home. Falling in love with the University of Toronto's downtown campus, Mann elected to attend the prestigious school, where he played four seasons with the Varsity Blues. He graduated U-of-T in 1993 with a degree in physical and health education.
Still itching to play, Mann decided not to attend teachers' college. He and roommate, Dean Haig headed overseas to Sweden on the advice of U-of-T head coach Paul Titanic. Thus began a ten-year professional hockey career that saw Mann play in Sweden, the ECHL, the UHL and the CHL from 1995 to 2005.
"Right or wrong," said, Mann, "I went down and played in the lower minors and only planned to do that for maybe a year or two, but I ended up really enjoying it, I knew I wasn't going to make the NHL but I was getting by financially, so I just kept playing."
It would be the connections made during the playing days that helped propel him into coaching. In particular, it was friend and former coach, Bruce Boudreau who suggested Mann get into coaching.
It's all about opportunity
Mann started coaching with the Topeka Tarantulas as a player-assistant, only suiting up for a handful of games in Topeka's inaugural season. He turned into a jack of all trades, observing the workings of a front office and learning the dynamics of coaching. When Topeka head coach Joe Coombs (a former Belleville Bull) took sick, Mann stepped in. Despite best efforts, the club folded after just one season.
Now looking for a position, Mann started networking. "That was a scary time, because I was really passionate about joining the coaching fraternity and unfortunately, the Topeka franchise lasted a year, and thankfully a good friend of mine, Bob Woods, who I had played with, and introduced to Bruce Boudreau. He was really good friends with Ted Dent and "Woody" recommended to Ted that he should take a look at me as an assistant," noted Mann.
Ted Dent offered Mann an assistant position for the 2005–06 season with the ECHL's Columbia Inferno. Mann had just finished his first season as Dent's assistant when Dent moved on to Norfolk of the American Hockey League.
"Things happened pretty quick in Columbia for me," said Mann, who earned his first head coaching job after just one season as an assistant.
"I think one thing the ECHL does for you is it prepares you, because you do so many things there, you don't have multiple coaches and you're doing budgets, worrying about buses and equipment, and you're trying to coach at the same time. If you don't have a work ethic and a drive, the ECHL certainly isn't for you."
After two successful seasons as the bench boss in Columbia, Bruce Boudreau and Bob Woods arranged an assistant coaching position for Mann in Hershey, where he won a Calder Cup with the Bears under head coach Mark French.
The duo spent three more seasons together before French was let go and Mann was passed over for the head coaching gig.
"That was a difficult time," said Mann."I felt I was ready to be a head coach in the American Hockey League and Washington felt they wanted to go with someone with head coaching experience. My alternatives were remaining as an assistant or going back to the ECHL and taking a step back to eventually take a step forward."
After a successful interview, Mann did the unexpected and resumed head coaching in the ECHL.
"I figured it could be career suicide," said Mann, "if I didn't go into Bakersfield and have some success because, ultimately, I wanted to be in the American League as a head guy." Fortunately, he led the Condors to the conference finals.
After just one season in Chocolate-town and a playoff miss, Mike Haviland was out in Hershey. After hiring an agent in the off-season, Mann earned another interview with Hershey and won the job. His strong ties to the franchise and winning record could not be ignored any more.
It took Mann nine years to go from a player-assistant to a head coach with the American Hockey League's most historic franchise.
Mann spent four seasons as the head coach of the Hershey Bears. He led the chocolate and white to a 162-102-40 record (.598 PT%). The newly-minted head coach guided the storied club to two Atlantic Division titles and a Calder Cup final appearance in 2016. Further, his stellar player development record earned Mann a Stanley Cup ring when the Washington Capitals used 14 Hershey alumni on their 2017-18 championship team.
The Bears tend to hold a short-leash and Mann's contract wasn't renewed by the club when they missed the playoffs in the year he took his Stanley Cup ring. In another unusual move, the Capitals also parted ways with their NHL head coach Barry Trotz, after he led their team to hockey's ultimate prize.
"What could go wrong, did go wrong," said Mann of his fourth season as head coach in Hershey. "From the goal-tending situation and we had a little bit of an older team, where some of the veterans maybe weren't as good as in previous years, and our best young players were up [with the NHL club]. I certainly felt I deserved another opportunity, just based on the four years as a head coach."
"To say I was confused early on, would probably be an understatement," admitted Mann, speaking of his departure from Hershey. "It hurt for sure, when you give eight good years of your career to one organization."
On June 25th, 2018, Belleville, a burgeoning franchise, looking to establish a winning culture after a difficult (29-42-2-3) inaugural campaign, found their man.
Enter Troy Mann, a now battle-tested head coach, who was ready for the task of setting the fledgling team on a better course. Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliates had missed the post-season in four consecutive seasons, starting in 2014-15. The Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup in 2010-11 but the Senators' primary affiliate had seen little success in New York State overall, missing the postseason in 10 of their 13 seasons, before moving north of the border.
"It's been a work in progress," said Mann of establishing a winning culture."It hasn't been easy with the roster fluctuation this year. When you're trying to instill a new attitude and a new systematic style of play and you have a lot of roster fluctuation, sometimes it takes a little bit more time."
Entering the Christmas Break with a (13-17-2-0) record and possessing the worst record in the North Division, a Calder Cup playoff berth seemed a distant dream. Then it clicked, Belleville went on a (24-14-1-5) run, registering a (0.613) point percentage to close out the season. They posted a franchise record 17-game point streak from January 19th until March 7, without a regulation defeat (12-0-5), the eighth longest in American Hockey League history.
The team used 48 players on this season while making a colossal 198 transactions, both unprecedented numbers. Despite mass organizational injuries, in his first season in Belleville, Mann led his club to an eight-win and 19 point improvement over their inaugural year, placing Belleville on the verge of a playoff berth, that ultimately fell short on the final day of the regular season.
"It's been really good," said Mann of his transition to Belleville. "Like anything, there are strengths and weaknesses to everything you do in life, this is no different."
"I've been very impressed this year on how many members from the front office and scouting staff have come to watch our team play live," said Mann. "I can honestly say it's been very impressive how important Belleville is to Ottawa and how much they come to watch us play."
Mann has nothing but praise for his bosses in Ottawa. "The communication with the front office in Ottawa has been outstanding all year, whether it's Pierre Dorion, Sean McCauley or Peter McTavish," commented Mann."
"I think the staffing here has been excellent," said Mann. "The setup is phenomenal, the work that's been done here at the CAA Arena in terms of the locker room set up and all the amenities available to us has been second to none. As good as it gets at the American Hockey League level, in terms of my experience of what I've seen."
When Belleville acquired Mann as their head coach, the team got a great communicator, a prospect whisperer and a proven winner. Few people know Mann's commitment to the game, his courage and his willingness to take smart risks in the pursuit of a dream.
Most of all, Mann is a quality person, who genuinely cares about the fans, players and the colleagues he works with; fourteen Stanley Cup champions have Mann to thank for their good fortune. Hopefully, the plain-spoken head coach has many more years with the Ottawa organization, currently loaded with blue-chip prospects, to add to that total. Nothing would give Mann more pleasure: leading others to success has become his professional signature.