By Jim McLaurin
© 2007 The State
COLUMBIA, S.C. – By the time the first Columbia Inferno players trickle into the Carolina Coliseum, Troy Mann is a couple of hours into what will be a 16-hour workday.
“This was my list for Monday, and the highlighted stuff is what I’ve done,” Mann, the first-year coach, says while holding up a legal pad with a page full of yellow-tinted items. “Then I start a list for Tuesday.
“One thing about my personality is I’m very organized. In my job, you’ve got to be.”
Before the end of the day, that might qualify as the understatement of the week. From his morning workout, which begins at 7:15, until he turns off the lights in his office downstairs near the locker room at 11:30 p.m., the Inferno coach/director of hockey operations serves a variety of roles: counselor, scout, administrator, coach and even butt-kicker. All in a day’s work.
GETTING READY EARLY
After his 7:15 a.m. workout of lifting weights and riding a stationary bike, Mann logs onto one of his two laptops to catch up on his e-mails and reads the hockey news “just to get ready for the day,” he says. He makes two phone calls to check on player personnel issues.
A short workout is scheduled for 10 a.m., and players are expected at 9 a.m. No one is late. The players call Mann a “players’ coach,” but not in the sense that he is all that warm and fuzzy.
“He actually cares about the guys,” forward Jeff Miles says. “He’s not like some places where all they (coaches) want to do is win and move up themselves and don’t care much about their players or their careers.
“He’s one of the most intense coaches I’ve ever played for. You don’t want to not show up for games. You’ve got to be ready for every game, mentally and physically.”
Before the workout, Mann briefs his 20-man squad on the evening’s opponent, the Texas Wildcatters, the ECHL’s Southern Division second-place team.
“The first game of the week is the most important one, so we want to get on the winning track here today, OK?” he says. “… We’ve played well against those guys, even in the two losses here, so we got to get ready to go.
“We need to get off to a good start before we head off to Toledo, and I guarantee you if we have another good week this week, I guarantee you, boys, we’ll be right back in the thick of things where we need to be for March.”
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Mann’s office upstairs is Spartan. On one wall are boards on which he has written the lineups for the Inferno, the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League and the parent Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League.
The players with asterisks are injured or unavailable. Columbia has four: Steve McJannet, whose grandfather died recently, is on a four-day bereavement leave; Jeff Winchester is on the three-day injured reserve list, and Ford is on the injured reserve. Foster was called up to the Marlies, so the team is short-handed.
From a filing cabinet, Mann pulls out a 6-inch-thick CD folder that contains video of every game from the Inferno’s season. After lunch, he might watch video to help formulate his game plan, which he will post on the locker-room board when the team gathers later in the afternoon. After his nap.
Wendy Hennessy, the team’s director of communications, notes with amazement Mann’s ability to relax on a game day.
“Our (previous) coach, Scott White, you knew not to speak a word to him on game days,” Hennessy says. “Troy, I’ve approached right before game time. Troy’s focused on a game day, but not like that. It is a special talent, especially for a first-year coach.”
The tempo picks up when Mann talks to the team before the 7 o’clock faceoff. When he heads to his office for a couple of minutes, the team pumps itself up, peppering the air with trash-talking and encouragement.
It does not take long for the Texans to let air out of the balloon. Thirty-three seconds in, forward Jason Beeman rifles a shot past Columbia goalkeeper Robert Gherson for a 1-0 lead. Seven minutes later, Texas’ Jeff State rips another into the net.
On the bench, Mann’s deportment does not change. From the opening faceoff, he paces, arms crossed, while chewing gum and offering encouragement: “C’mon, men! C’mon, men!”
They respond. At the 9:25 mark of the period, Owen Fussey slips a backhander into the Texas net to make it 2-1.
“We’re playing straight-legged, boys,” Mann says in the locker room during intermission. “… Pick it up here, be a little more physical on the forechecking. … We’re OK here, but we can go better. Let’s go!”
The Inferno tie the score at 2 on defenseman Tyson Marsh’s goal, but the Texans own the rink the rest of the way and win 4-2.
It wasn’t the score as much as the effort that bothers Mann. In the locker room, he unleashes the frustration of a long day that does not end well.
“We just didn’t (expletive) have it tonight!” Mann said. “There was no urgency to the game. You’ve done it to me all (expletive) year! Every time I think we’re going to get something (expletive) going, you (expletive) play (expletive) horse—!”
He stalks out of the locker room and slams the door of his office. In the locker room, a silence follows, broken only by the sound of ripping tape as players undress.
A few minutes later, Mann is not quite up to smiling, but his anger has dissipated.
“I was maybe a little hard on them in terms of the effort not being there, but I just felt that we were very scrambly tonight and that we just didn’t have it,” Mann says.
“Will I give them the hardest practice of the year tomorrow? Probably not, because at this time of the year rest is more important than anything else.”
After watching him go through his day, seeing the pressure and intensity rise by the hour, you would expect Mann to take it home with him, brood over the loss until it is replaced by a win. But no. Once it’s over, he says, it’s over.
“I’m so mentally drained after a game that, to be honest, what I usually do is have a beer and relax,” he says.
“From my end, I move on to the next day, get ready for Friday. There’s nothing I can do about the last one.”