ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Blade is back.
Goaltender Blade Mann-Dixon is back in Antigonish and with the St. F.X. X-Men after a junior career that included a few different stops, in two leagues; concluding just a couple of hours down the road with the Halifax Mooseheads.
Drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs in the 2014 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) draft, Mann-Dixon also suited up briefly for the Moncton Wildcats and Charlottetown Islanders before landing with the Mooseheads in second part of the 2016-17 season.
The first overall pick in the Maritime Junior Hockey League’s 2013 draft by the Valley Wildcats, Mann-Dixon also spent parts of two seasons with the Berwick-based junior ‘A’ team where he was named league rookie of the year for the 2013-14 season and a first-team all-star the following season, while recording the top goals-against-average (2.40).
Prior to his junior hockey days, Mann-Dixon manned the pipes for the local Nova Major Bantams (Jr. X-Men at the time) and Cape Breton West Major Midget Islanders.
“Literally, bantam,” Mann-Dixon said, when asked about the last time his home rink was this close to his actual home, a reference to the Novas using both Port Hawkesbury and Antigonish as their base of operations.
He said being close to home was part of the appeal when talking to the X-Men.
“They kind of came in a little late in the mix; I was talking to a few teams, but once they came in and said they were interested, it was kind of a no-brainer for me,” Mann-Dixon said, talking to the Casket Sept. 26.
Asked about what he learned from his junior hockey experience, Mann-Dixon was able to capture the message in two words.
“Have fun,” he said. “It’s pretty cliché but, if you’re not having fun when you’re playing, then …” he said, not completing his sentence but, definitely, his thought.
Mann-Dixon said he was fortunate to have a number of good goalie coaches while in junior, pointing out former Mooseheads’ goalie coach Eric Raymond in particular.
“They helped me tremendously,” he said. “I learned so much; especially last year with Eric. He works with an AHL team and a couple of other colleges; he was a big help to me and I think that showed.”
Raymond left the Mooseheads at the start of this year to take on an expanded role with the AHL team Mann-Dixon referenced – the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Now a rookie in the U Sports ranks, Mann-Dixon was asked about his expectations for this season.
“Just take it as it comes, honestly; prove that I can play here,” he said, noting he was pleased with a start he had the previous weekend in pre-season action.
“It went pretty well … I just have to keep that up,” he said.
In the X-Men crease, Mann-Dixon joins Chase Marchand, the defending U Sports’ goaltender of the year and AUS most valuable player, amongst other accolades earned by Halifax native during his two years with the blue and white.
“He has played really well and continued to do so in the preseason, so it’s just about what I can learn from him,” Mann-Dixon said, adding he had the opportunity to get to know Marchand prior to joining the X-Men.
“He is a great guy. He has been to two NHL camps so far; so just talking to him a bit, I can pick up a few things.”
Jr. X-Men to X-Men
St. F.X. head coach Brad Peddle pointed out Mann-Dixon joining the program marks a significant local hockey connection.
“The first Jr. X-Man to actually be an X-Man, it’s a pretty special thing,” Peddle said, referencing Mann-Dixon’s major bantam days.
“So he is very familiar to our program and we’ve known Blade for a long time; followed his progress, basically, right from atom to major junior and now here.”
Peddle said he is a great addition.
“Right now, he gives us some great depth at that position,” Peddle said, noting Mann-Dixon is well aware he is joining the reigning league MVP and national goalie of the year..
“He’ll be able to work well with Chase and they’ll be able to push one another. He played that one game on the road and was outstanding; so he’ll get his opportunities … he just has to be real patience right now.”
Tough losses to start
The X-Men first weekend of regular season play (Sept. 28 and 29) saw them drop a couple of extra-session games; a 2-1 overtime loss at Acadia Friday night, and a shootout loss, in a game played Saturday at the Antigonish Arena, by a 5-4 count.
“It’s a fine line in this league, as most know,” Peddle said.
“Obviously, the thing we’re not happy with is in the Saturday night game, when you lead a good team like St. Mary’s by three in the third period, you have to find a way to put them away. But, instead, we gave them some life, let them back in the game and, before you know it, it’s going to a shootout.
“We have to learn from that. We got two points but, certainly, not happy with two when we could have had more.”
Peddle said there were positives from the weekend.
“It’s a tough rink in Acadia and we could have won that in overtime; we had our chances,” he said. “In the second game, I really liked our first and second, how engaged we were, going right after them on puck drop. But when you’re playing those good clubs, you have to make sure you’re paying attention to the details for 60 minutes and, in both games, we got away from that in spurts.”
Adam Stevens, from Matt Needham and Santino Centorame on a power-play, scored for St. F.X. versus Acadia.
Matthew Graham, Anthony Difruscia, Centorame and Stevens scored versus the Huskies with assists coming from Needham, Bailey Webster, Bryson Cianfrone, Aaron Hoyles, Sam Studnicka and Adam Holwell.
Marchand played both games for the X-Men, making 33 saves versus Acadia and 31 versus SMU.
St. F.X. is on the road again this Friday (Oct. 5) versus Moncton and home next Wednesday (Oct. 10) versus Acadia. Puck drop for the Keating Centre contest is 7 p.m.