Josh Manson arrived like a semi-truck without brakes, crashing Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli into the boards with the biggest body check of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
That play ionelped set the tone for the Colorado Avalanche’s 4-3 overtime win Wednesday in Denver. It also reminded Northeastern athletic director Jim Madigan of the plays that Manson routinely made for the Huskies a decade ago while he was transforming the ice hockey program.
“I’m thrilled and excited for him,” says Madigan, who served as Manson’s head coach at Northeastern. “It’s hard to win a Stanley Cup. We would be thrilled for him because he’s a wonderful young man who helped our program immensely. To be a Stanley Cup champion, that’s something not many people can ever say.”
When Manson was traded to the Avalanche in March by his NHL team for the past eight years, the Anaheim Ducks, it signaled Colorado’s commitment to earning the championship this season. Manson, a 30-year-old defenseman, is hoping to become the first Northeastern player to win the Stanley Cup since 1986, when Chris Nilan and Randy Bucyk were champions with the Montreal Canadiens.
The building blocks of the Huskies’ program came together quickly in the summer of 2011. Madigan, a Northeastern graduate who had helped the Huskies win two Beanpots in the 1980s, was hired as head coach of his alma mater days before Manson formally committed to Northeastern. Jerry Keefe was hired as Madigan’s assistant coach soon thereafter.
“Josh was the first guy that really started to change our culture,” says Keefe, who was named Hockey East coach of the year this past season after being promoted when Madigan became athletic director in 2021. “He had such a presence to him and he was so well respected that guys followed. Josh’s leadership paved the way for the success we’ve had as a program.”
Madigan would become Northeastern’s most successful hockey coach, but his tenure began inauspiciously. He had no choice but to rebuild around young players, including Manson, who was named team captain going into his junior year in 2013-14. By then Manson had endured two losing seasons at Northeastern.
“He got to a point that he was just sick and tired of losing,” Madigan says of Manson. “We had some good players and a good recruiting class coming in, and that summer Manson focused on getting the guys to buy into what was needed to win at this level. And that’s when our program took off. He was intimidating. He was a monster in the weight room. He held them accountable. He gave us credibility.”
While growing up in Canada, Manson had briefly considered quitting the sport in order to focus on snowboarding. But he was always a hockey player at heart: His father, Dave Manson, a former first-round pick of the Chicago Black Hawks, had earned 2,792 penalty minutes across 16 seasons with seven NHL teams.
“It helped that his dad’s nickname was Charlie Manson,” Madigan says, laughing. “We all knew about that reputation. By the time Josh finished his sophomore year, he’d established himself as a real stay-at-home, physical defensive player—one of the toughest in college hockey.”
The 2013-14 team went 19-14-4 and the Huskies haven’t suffered a losing year since. The program evolved to win three straight Beanpot titles. In the meantime, Manson was emerging as a defensive leader for the Ducks, who had picked him in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Draft. Manson turned pro after his junior year at Northeastern and earned a place in the Anaheim rotation by his second professional season.
“Guys in the Anaheim organization couldn’t say enough about his leadership and how everything he does, he does it the right way,” Keefe says. “I’m just really excited for him to have an opportunity with Colorado playing for the Stanley Cup now. He’s a guy that deserves it.”
The 6-foot-3-inch Manson has become a crucial part of the Colorado scheme. In Game 6 of their second-round series against the St. Louis Blues, Manson stopped a shot off his chest that helped the Avalanche recover from a 2-1 deficit. They advanced to the conference finals where, after a 4-0 sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, Manson hugged his father—an opposing assistant coach—on the ice as his teammates celebrated their ascension to the ultimate round.