He was involved in two of the highest profile trades in Penguins history. What’s more, he’s ranked sixth on the team’s all-time list of highest scoring defensemen. Yet many Steel City hockey fans seem to have all but forgotten Moe Mantha, who arguably was the team’s best blue-liner at the dawn of the Mario Lemieux era.
The son of Moe Mantha, Sr., a minor-league defenseman during the 1950s and ‘60s, Moe Jr. spent his formative years in Cleveland while his father skated for the AHL Barons. When his dad moved the family to Sturgeon Falls, Ontario following his playing career, young Moe enrolled in the local hockey program and eventually earned a spot on the Toronto Marlboros junior team.
A strong, fluid skater who possessed a flair for offense, Mantha drew the attention of the Winnipeg Jets, who made him the 23rd overall pick at the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. After several cups of coffee with the Jets, Moe enjoyed a breakout season in 1983-84, piling up 16 goals and 54 points.
It appeared that Mantha was set for a long and productive career in Manitoba. But on May 1, 1984, he was shocked to learn that he’d been sent to the Penguins as the future considerations in a deal for Norris Trophy winner Randy Carlyle. Still, his disappointment at being traded to the lowly Pens quickly dissolved when he realized he’d have a chance to play with Lemieux.
Although only 23 years old, Mantha established himself as a leader on a very young team. Serving as an assistant captain, he helped teenage defenseman Doug Bodger make the difficult transition from junior hockey to the NHL. With 11 goals and 51 points, Moe also was far and away the Pens’ most productive defender.
Mantha hit his stride in 1985-86, when he enjoyed his finest pro season. Taking full advantage of his excellent passing and puckhandling skills—to say nothing of his hard, accurate shot—the rangy 6’2” 195-pounder totaled 15 goals and 67 points. Quarterbacking the team’s potent power play, Moe tallied 11 goals with the man advantage.
Unfortunately, the Penguins collapsed down the homestretch and missed the playoffs for the fourth-straight season. As one of the team’s most prominent players, Mantha took his share of the heat. He became a target of the Civic Arena boo-birds during an injury plagued 1986-87 campaign when he missed 18 games due to a variety of ailments, including a broken wrist and a sprained knee. Still, he finished second among black-and-gold defensemen in scoring with 40 points.
The mustachioed defender was scoring at his customary pace the following season when he was sent to Edmonton on November 24, 1987 as part of the blockbuster seven-player trade that brought Hall-of-Famer Paul Coffey to Pittsburgh.
Following the trade Mantha morphed into hockey’s version of baseball legend “Suitcase Simpson.” He skated for a number of teams over the next several seasons—including the Oilers, North Stars, Flyers, and Jets again—before closing out his NHL career in 1992 with a highly respectable 370 points.
Still active in the game, Moe presently serves as the coach and general manager for the Michigan Warriors of the NAHL.