Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Part 1: Remembering 'Mani'

It's like Michael Maniago still has her back.

Jacalyn Scott can look at the tattoo on her back shoulder as inspiration for the young man known as one of the neighbour's kids, but who she also thought of as her little brother.

Jacalyn Scott's tattoo tribute to Michael Maniago. Photo provided.

Nine years ago, on November 29, 2008, Maniago was killed in a car crash in Calgary.

"It still feels so recent and so raw," Scott said in a conversation on Facebook this week. "Sometimes it is surreal and I have to remind myself that he is really gone."

"He was passionate, smart, witty, but most of all, he was kind," she continued. "He had such a beautiful heart."

"He was just a sweetheart and he just went out of his way to help everybody and just make everybody happy," she later said in a phone conversation. "He was just someone you could depend on and you were just lucky to know."

A product of the Calgary Midget AAA Buffaloes, Maniago went on to play in the WHL for the Kamloops Blazers and the Hurricanes, including the 2008 run to the WHL Championship against Spokane. He also spent time coaching young goalies at World Pro Goaltending in Calgary.

Despite the trajectory of his career, Maniago took it all in stride.

"With his mentoring and his coaching, you just knew he was going to be something big and I think he kind of knew he was going to be something big," Scott said. "But he didn't let that cloud his personality or how he was. He just used his talent to bring everybody up."

"For the people who didn't know Mike, he was truly an amazing young man," his mother Terri said in a Facebook message. "He was very caring and very much loved by so many. He was so generous and he loved greatly. He loved life to the fullest, he loved nothing more than to help out anyone."

"He never let his hockey status go to his head and make him think he was better than anyone else," she continued. "He was a normal kid who was taken too soon."

*****

"He was just special," former Hurricanes goalie coach Jeff Battah said in a call from Austria. "I know people say that a lot but when I'd go to the rink and I have a bad day, and it doesn't feel like a bad day with somebody, that's a good impact on someone. I just liked being around him."

While it would be easy to talk about the way Maniago died, the important lesson here is talking about the way he lived. And Battah remains impressed with the way the youngster conducted himself, particularly in his last year of junior hockey.

Helmet tribute logo. Photo courtesy: Ryan Ohashi.

"Even when things weren't good, in terms of he didn't get to play because Juha (Metsola) was playing, he was easy to go to the rink with," Battah recalled. "He was just a nice person."

"I got to know his parents, I still keep in touch with his father, I just feel for them because 20-years-old or 30-years-old, it's way too young to lose somebody," he continued. "He had his whole future ahead of him, I don't know what he would have done. I would hope he would have been coaching but he would have been productive in society, that's for sure."

Even as he coaches today, Battah makes sure some of the lessons he learned from Maniago stay front and centre.

"The way he approached going to the rink," Battah pointed out. "We all have bad days: players, coaches management. Just don't take it for granted and he didn't. Even on his bad days, he showed up to the rink and that's one thing I think you could take from him."

It was more than just hockey though.

"He cared about people, he cared about people more than himself for the most part and he stood up for himself when he needed to and he was strong in his convictions," Battah said. "He believed in himself."

*****

The memory of Michael Maniago lives on at the Cardel Rec Centre in Calgary. One of the dressing rooms has been dedicated to the young man known as "Mani." Plaques depicting his career and photos adorn the walls.









Meanwhile, the Calgary Buffaloes honoured his memory by naming their top goaltender award after him.

And back at her home, Jacalyn Scott is happy to talk about the neighbour boy. Even in Mexico shortly after his death, someone saw the tattoo and recognized it right away as a tribute to Maniago.

But it's not just the artwork that keeps him close to her heart. Her son's middle name is Michael.

"His life was short, far shorter than it should have been but it was full," Scott said. "It was full of love and he never held a grudge. He was such a wonderful person and I have a son now that I want to raise to be like Mike."

On the anniversary of his death, it's how he lived that impressed everyone the most.

"We want people to remember him and just have good things associated with him and his name and if people do ask about the name and what he meant to us, just for me to be able to say 'this is what he did and this is how he still lives on,'" Scott reflected. "We just always want positivity to be associated with him."

But still, some question what Maniago could have been.

"When I track back to that group and guys are married, guys are having kids, guys are playing pro in Europe or are moving on in life and I wonder what would he have been," Battah said. "You always want to say I hope a guy stays in hockey and I know it's not for everybody and people want to move on in their lives. But I always wonder what he would have done and would he have had kids."

"It's just tough at the end of the day."

Maniago's legacy, left nine years ago, is summed up best by Scott.

"Love deeply, forgive easily, aspire for your dreams and never stop working for something," she concluded. "Don't ever stop and think that anything is ever going to get handed to you on a platter because you need to work for your talent and you need to be a good person. He was the personification of that."

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