By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – In the third grade, Lane Manson was already so much taller than his classmates he had to use a seventh-grader’s desk.
By the time he was in seventh grade he was the tallest person — student or teacher — at the school.
From average-sized parents and the small town of Watrous in the prairie providence of Saskatchewan, Manson has become a 6-8, 240-pound leviathan. Just 20 years old, he is still growing into his body. It is, if you will, the biggest reason Manson is spending his first season as a professional with the Gwinnett Gladiators.
“I think they just want to give me more time,” said Manson, signed and assigned by the Atlanta Thrashers. “I need to develop my game, play more physical and just get stronger.
“It’ll give me a chance to be able to step into the (American Hockey League) and be effective immediately. Not flounder around. That’s my goal is to step in right into the lineup when I do make that transition. Unfortunately, this fall I wasn’t ready for that.”“Well, I was told I wasn’t ready for that,” he added with a chuckle.
The defenseman’s height has always gotten him noticed. It’s also afforded him advantages.
“Especially when I was young,” Manson said. “In Saskatchewan, there’s only a million people total. You start out trying to make teams not even for the whole providence, just for the little areas of the providence. They just see a big guy and they say, ‘OK, we’ll take him and we’ll teach him how to play hockey.’ They see your size and they just want to take advantage of it.
“If you’re willing to work at it, there’s so much opportunity. Sometimes it’s not really even fair to the little guy. They work just as hard, but what do you do? You still have to work hard. You earn it, but I think sometimes you might get a second look if you’re a bigger guy.”
Manson, like a great majority of Canadian kids, was learning to skate and walk at about the same time. Especially growing up in a small town. Watrous, located nearly 250 miles north of the Montana border, has a population of 1,860. Manson’s high school had about 200 students and the athletic ones played every sport.
Manson was one of those. He played volleyball, basketball, football, baseball and ran track. But hockey was his favorite.
“When you’re a kid you always dream of playing in the NHL,” Manson said. “There was a point though where I didn’t think I was going to be able to be a hockey player, just because I grew so much I was just so uncoordinated. At the time, basketball came pretty easy. And baseball, sports where you weren’t shooting and skating.
“But then after I kind of started to realize the opportunities I had, it was kind of nice to see I could pursue a hockey career.”
Manson earned a spot with Moose Jaw of the major junior Western Hockey League in 2001. Playing 100 miles from his hometown, Manson appeared in 79 games for the Warriors, 12 of those in the playoffs. He had 94 penalty minutes and eight points and at the end of that season was selected by the Thrashers in the fourth round of the 2002 NHL entry draft.
Still a teenager, Manson returned to Moose Jaw, where his penalty minutes increased dramatically in each of the two subsequent seasons. In 2003-04, Manson had 271 PIMs and 14 points over 82 games as the Warriors once again made the playoffs.
After attending Thrashers’ prospect camp in July and Chicago Wolves training camp this fall, Manson was assigned to Gwinnett, where his tremendous reach and smart play has helped the Gladiators to the top of their division.
“He’s an extremely intelligent player,” Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. “He picks up systems, he knows where to be. When he comes over to talk to you, he wants to learn. And that’s such a positive thing. He’s not bitter about being in this league. He knows he’s a year away maybe from the American League. But he needs his ice time here.
“He’s just a great kid that works hard. He’s so good in the locker room. I just think he needs time to grow into his body, he needs time to mature.”
In 21 games for the Gladiators, Manson has seven points, 34 penalty minutes and a plus-minus rating of +8. His first assist and goal as a professional came on different nights but in the same opponent’s building. Manson’s first and so far only goal of the season came on Nov. 26 against Louisiana — the site of the Gladiators’ game on Wednesday in the Cajundome.
“He’s really already at where I need him to be,” Pyle said of Manson’s progress. “He’s tough, he’s got skill and he knows the game.
“He’s deceptive with how smart he is and how good a player he is. (Other teams) look at him and you go, man, he’s a big guy, we should be able to work him down low. But you can’t because he doesn’t get beat that often. When he gets you in his grasp, you don’t beat him.”