Hurricanes playing with extra emotion

JASON HILLS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

The Lethbridge Hurricanes are skating with heavy hearts after the death of former teammate Michael Maniago.

The 20-year-old netminder was killed in a car accident Nov. 29 in Calgary. His former teammates attended his funeral Saturday, hours before posting a 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings.

"There were a lot of emotional highs and lows of the day -- it was a sad time -- but it was a celebration of Manni's life," said Hurricanes general manager Roy Stasiuk.

"I think the kids are holding up as well as they can right now. It's been a very tough week on all of them. I haven't polled any of them, but I would suspect for some of them, it would be their first experience at the funeral service.

"Manni helped establish an identity for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and that is the most important part, making sure we live up to that."

Maniago, who suited up for the 'Canes last year in his fourth and final WHL season, was heading to get pizza with his younger brother Matthew and two friends when his Volkswagon Jetta collided with an SUV. The driver of the SUV had allegedly been drinking.

Maniago began his WHL career with Kamloops in 2004-05, but was traded to Lethbridge after two seasons with the Blazers.

In his final year with the Hurricanes, Maniago had a career year, posting a 25-14-4

record with an .896 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average. He rode shotgun to import Juha Metsola on their run to the WHL final, where the 'Canes were bounced by the eventual Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs.

"He was unbelievable for us. At the start of the year, he really helped us get on that huge 13-game winning streak that turned our season around in November," said Lethbridge captain Ben Wright. "Juha eventually took over, but Manni laid the ground work for us, and he didn't get negative. He was always positive.

"If there is one thing I've learned from his death, it's that we need to be more like him. He was always such a positive guy in the dressing room, and that is something we can take away from him."

The Hurricanes are a respectable 17-12-0-1 as they approach the midway point of the 2008-09 season, but sit in fourth place in the Central Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference.

"We don't want to necessarily dedicate our season to Michael Maniago -- that would be improper and inappropriate -- but we do want to take something from the service and the priest at the funeral talked about the dash that is, of course, your life span and the dash in between," said Stasiuk.

"Were looking at the dash of our season 2008-2009 and we want to make sure we fill in that dash and do what we can to make sure it's remembered even though it's short in terms of a hyphen, it's memorable."

In their victory over the Oil Kings Saturday, you could see many of Maniago's former teammates play with extra emotion.

Ex-Hurricanes forward Adam Chornekyo, who now plays for the Saskatoon Blades, attended the funeral before flying back to Vancouver to face the Giants. He scored a goal Saturday and pointed to the sky, honouring his former teammate.

"We want to take his memory with us and play every game for him. It's sad, but it's made guys think about life, not just hockey," said Wright.

A trust fund has been set-up in Maniago's name to help aspiring goaltenders who deal with financial hardship.

The Hurricanes have made a donation to the fund, and plan to make another one in February. Both Kamloops and the Western Hockey League have matched the Hurricanes donations.

"Michael, at the time of his death was working with young goaltenders in Calgary, and so we certainly want to carry on his legacy," said Stasiuk.

"We, as a team, want to honour him on the ice.

I would like to design a crest that has 'M M, 30,' so we can honour his memory."


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