Mantha terminated by Spitfires

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

WINDSOR -- Embattled junior hockey star Steve Downie made his return to the Windsor Arena last night.

His embattled former coach, Moe Mantha, won't be doing so any time soon.

Downie has escaped the OHL soap opera that the Windsor Spitfires have become, and now is a key weapon for the high-flying Peterborough Petes.

Meanwhile, Spitfires owner Steve Riolo announced after last night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Petes that Mantha has been "terminated with cause" as the team's coach and general manager.

Serving a 40-game suspension because of an early-season team hazing incident, Mantha was eligible to begin coaching at team practices only today.

But Riolo said former Leafs prospect D.J. Smith and Bill Bowler will remain as co-coaches.

Riolo admitted the hazing plus the departure of Downie, who demanded a trade after being suspended for an on-ice fight with teammate Akim Aliu, were principal reasons for Mantha's dismissal.

"That's part of it," Riolo said.

"We brought in Moe Mantha, being a 14-year player in the National Hockey League, to be a mentor. In certain incidents I'm not going to release (he wasn't)."

Downie, apparently, has moved on.

Booed heartily by the crowd of 3,307 every time he touched the puck, the 18-year-old Queensville native is part of a Petes team that now has won 14 in a row and is Canada's top-rated junior team.

Downie had three assists last night, giving him 14 points in six games with the Petes.

"It was very emotional playing against those guys, I'm glad it's over," said Downie, who also spoke in defence of Mantha.

"I hope for the best for him. He's a great coach and a great guy. He didn't deserve what he got."

A first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers this past spring, Downie's saga began after the scrap in a Sept. 28 practice.

Downie was suspended for five games for decking Aliu. Soon after, OHL commissioner Dave Branch nailed the Spits for the hazing scandal.

Since his trade demands were met, Downie has been a nice fit with the Petes.

"I think he's very excited to be with our organization," Petes coach Dick Todd said.

"He's surrounded by good players, and that the ball isn't in his court on a shift by shift basis will help him out."

Life has been considerably more complicated for Aliu.

The Toronto native remained an outcast in the Windsor dressing room and he left the team earlier this week and is awaiting a trade.


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