Living the Dream: Valley Wildcat Mann-Dixon ready for whatever hockey has in store for him

John Decoste
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Blade Mann-Dixon “is going to have a lot of doors open to him,” after his first season with the Valley Wildcats, says head coach Nick Greenough.

Mann-Dixon was named the MHL rookie of the year earlier this spring. He recently completed his first season with the Wildcats as a 16-year-old.

“It was a good experience, lots of fun and a good way to start my junior career. I enjoyed it a lot,” Mann-Dixon said.

Despite still being midget age, Mann-Dixon had a solid rookie season, with a 12-17-0-2 record in 34 regular season games for a team that went 19-28-4-1.

He played 1,781 minutes and allowed 99 goals, good for a 3.33 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

In six playoff games, he had a 2-4 record, playing 366 minutes with 25 goals allowed, 4.09 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

Mann-Dixon, who played the 2012-2013 season with Cape Breton West midget AAA, was the Wildcats’ first-round draft pick and the first choice overall in the MHL draft.

He wasn’t number one coming in; the Wildcats had a veteran already in Jeff Arkin.

“They gave me the net for the first couple of games, and I guess they must have liked what they saw. I ended up number one, and Arkin got traded,” Mann-Dixon said.

His performance this season was impressive for someone who doesn’t turn 17 until April 29.

“There aren’t too many 16-year-old goalies in the league, but it is what it is.”

Junior A, he added, was “a big change” from major midget, with “more fans, bigger bodies and everything is a lot faster.”

He was injured once this season, missing a week of action, but was able to play at the U-17 Worlds in Cape Breton, a major thrill that “lived up to expectations for sure.”

As soon as the season ended, he returned to his home in Antigonish and resumed classes at Dr. J.H. Gillis High School, where he is in Grade 11, after having attended school in the Valley while playing for the Wildcats.

“Before I left, I made sure my classes matched up, so I was able to go back.”


Looking forward

As for what the future might hold, it all depends on what happens in the draft.

“I’d like to get a shot at the Q. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll be back playing in the Valley, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. I like it here,” Mann-Dixon said.

As for the long-term, “I’d like to go as far as I can in hockey. I’ll take it one year at a time, and what happens, happens.”

Despite rumours to the contrary, he said there has been “no specific interest” from the QMJHL so far.

“We’ll just have to see what happens.”

Asked what makes Mann-Dixon such a good goaltender, Greenough said Mann-Dixon’s biggest strength is his confidence in the net.

“He’s calm and composed, and confident in his abilities – he’s like that when you meet him, and he’s like that on the ice, both at practices and in games,” Greenough said.

“He’s not the biggest guy, even for a goalie, but he plays his position really well, and he maybe has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and is out to prove people wrong who said he wouldn’t be able to make it because of his size.”

Greenough fully expects Mann-Dixon to be chosen in the QMJHL draft later this spring.

“He’s technically sound, and gives up very few big rebounds. He’s been an excellent goalie for us, and I fully expect he’ll be excellent wherever he ends up.”

Despite the pressure of being the number-one draft choice and facing a large number of shots each game, “he carried our team throughout the year, and proved he could play at this level,” Greenough said.

“Every night he was in there, he gave us a chance to win.”

That, combined with the confidence shown by Mann-Dixon and his fellow 16-year-old teammate Colby Tower, “rubbed off on the others,” Greenough said.

“He was the youngest guy on the team, but he was one of our leaders, and a real backbone for us.”

Mann-Dixon, Greenough predicted, is going to get an opportunity at the next level.

“He deserves the chance, as the rookie of the year in our league,” Greenough said.

“It’ll be up to him to decide what he wants to do, and where his future lies, in major junior or maybe the school route (in NCAA Division 1 in the United States).”

Unlike here in Canada, a player who plays major junior hockey is ineligible to play NCAA hockey in the U.S.

“More than anything, I want to see him succeed. As much as I’d love to have him back next year and into the future, it’s always been a big part of my philosophy that we’re here to develop players to move on to the next level,” Greenough added.

Organizations: Wildcats, J.H. Gillis High School, NCAA

Geographic location: Cape Breton West, Antigonish, United States Canada

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Recent comments

  • Graham
    April 22, 2014 - 17:16

    If the Valley Wildcats were practicing and playing on a bigger ice surface than what they presently have in Kentville they would win more games. Time for the team to move to a bigger and better facility.

  • Graham
    April 22, 2014 - 17:15

    If the Valley Wildcats were practicing and playing on a bigger ice surface than what they presently have in Kentville they would win more games. Time for the team to move to a bigger and better facility.