Josh Manson didn't really want to leave Saskatchewan, but he had no choice.
Summer was coming to an end and it was time to head back to Southern California for training camp ahead of the 2016-17 NHL season.
Leaving his mother, Lana Manson, behind in Canada would be far more difficult this time.
While Josh was at Northeastern, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma. Now, the cancer had advanced to Stage 4 and, worse, it metastasized throughout Lana's body: her lungs, pelvis, bones and brain.
He knew this could very well be the last time he saw her. The doctors told them in September there was a three-month window for the medicine to work its magic.
But the baby-faced Manson had a blossoming NHL career to attend to and, besides, his mother wouldn't have let him stay anyway.
“All of a sudden the future is that your time is short and you don't know what's going to happen,” he recounted. "Everything's unexpected. You don't know what kind of time you're going to get with her.
“All of a sudden I’m leaving, and it's like, ‘Wow, I better make the most of the time that I now have.’ That was the hardest thing to wrap my head around for sure.”
Josh told his mother it was weighing on his mind, and she put him at ease when she said: “I'll see you when you play Calgary.”
So off Josh went and, as he prepared for his first full season in the NHL, he received some great news on his 25th birthday: The medicine worked and the cancer was in remission.
Lana underwent interferon injections for one year in an attempt to eradicate the disease. Josh called it “a heck of a drug. It takes a toll on your body. Watching her go through that was miserable.”
All is well now, and last week Lana visited Southern California and the pair played her favorite sport — golf (she plays twice a week now that she’s healthy).
When Josh's dad, Dave Manson, played in the NHL, Lana played hockey mom as Josh grew into the top-four defenseman he is today for the Ducks.
She took Josh to practices and games, operated the establishment the family owned, Extreme Pita, and also took his two sisters to soccer activities (both went on to play college soccer). Josh's brother, Ben, plays junior-level hockey.
“What crosses your mind: None of the kids were married yet, you think of the things you’re going to miss,” Lana said.
But she didn’t, and she was in attendance Nov. 15 at Honda Center when Josh scored his first goal of the season.
The 6-foot-3, 213-pounder added two more goals in the last three games, and suddenly, the man with a reputation as a stay-at-home defenseman is flashing his offensive skills.
“Seeing how he improved in a couple of years is amazing,” said defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who played with Manson in 2015, and then returned this season after two campaigns in Colorado.
“He’s becoming one of the best all-around defensemen in the league. We all know how good he is in his own zone, but he can skate as well and he can move the puck pretty good.”
Manson’s physical play surely reminds people of his father Dave, who had a penchant for scraps during his 18 seasons in the NHL. His 2,792 penalty minutes rank No. 13 all time.
Dave called eight different cities home during his NHL career, and Josh was around for some of it — Dave retired when Josh was 10 — so he learned to acclimate to new surroundings quickly.
“He’s making his own name,” said Dave, who is proud of how his son invested in his future, with five consecutive summers in skating school. “He grew up in a hockey family. He is his own player. He’s established. He’s his own man.”
Said Josh: “He's always there to rely on. I can lean on him. He understands the game so well. More than anything, he understands the mind-set and what it takes to stay and play in the NHL.”
He’ll be around for a while after the Ducks rewarded his ever-improving play last month with a four-year contract extension worth $4.1 million annually.
Josh leads the Ducks with a plus-11 rating, and his 11 points are tied for fourth on the team.
A nifty backhand deke fooled Florida’s Roberto Luongo on a breakaway goal Sunday, and Josh buried another Wednesday through the five-hole of Vegas’ Maxime Lagace.
‘Manson is a young player that we believe in and he’s that type of no-nonsense player,” said coach Randy Carlyle. “You watch the way he prepares himself and the way he practices day in, day out, that’s the way he plays.”
Josh was battling for a college scholarship when he switched from forward to defense, and that changed everything. He was drafted by the Ducks in 2011 (sixth round) and is locked up through 2022.
He owns his father’s toughness and his mother’s positive attitude. And as a self-described late bloomer, he’s just getting started.
“I’m starting to figure out the kind of player I can be and grow into that player,” he said. “Guys, they don't see it coming. You jump in the rush, they’re not really keying on you.”
Soon enough, the NHL will realize just how good Manson is. They’ll have no choice.
DUCKS NEXT UP
When: 1 p.m. PT.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.
Update: The Ducks held a full practice on Thanksgiving, the morning after perhaps their worst performance of the season, a 4-2 defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights with 49 shots allowed (they had just 19). … The Jets (13-5-3) are second in the Western Conference with 29 points. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has been a revelation, with .925 save percentage. Star winger Patrick Laine’s 11 goals are tied for 10th in the NHL. … This is the Ducks’ last home game before a six-game trip.