Elliott: Former Duck Josh Manson has taken game to higher altitude with Cup finalist Avalanche

At first, it was about the altitude.

When Josh Manson was told the Ducks were trading him to Colorado his mind flashed through his eight seasons in Anaheim and the good moments he had there, including their trip to the 2017 West final. He thought it would launch an era of success. It turned out to be their last competitive stand.

“I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that organization,” said Manson, who was dealt for defense prospect Drew Helleson and a 2023 second-round draft pick. “So it was tough leaving, hearing the news that I was going to have to leave. For sure, I wish I would have won a Cup there. I wish I would have won the Cup there every year that I was there.”

Landing with the mighty Avalanche eased his distress. Then he practiced with his new team in mile-high Denver and remembered the hazards of playing in thin air.

“You get out, you get a little bit of an extended shift and you get off and you start breathing, thinking you’re gonna recover, but the recovery just doesn’t come. It’s almost like the air that’s coming in isn’t really doing anything for you,” he said.

“So my first week, first week-and-a-half here I’d say, after the trade, it took a little bit of time. The practices felt tougher, everything just felt a little bit more difficult, but once you settle in and acclimate, then it makes a big difference, for sure.”

Now, it’s about the attitude.

Determined to seize the moment, Manson has played a vital role in the Avalanche’s progress to the Stanley Cup Final by providing physicality and size without compromising the marvelous mobility of a defense corps that’s led by generational find Cale Makar.

Manson’s performance in Colorado’s 4-3 overtime victory over two-time defending champion Tampa Bay on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Final was typical: he was credited with four shots, four thumping hits and one blocked shot.

Usually paired with former King Jack Johnson, Manson is averaging 17 minutes and nine seconds’ ice time in postseason play and has collected two goals and six points in 15 games.

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic said a few days ago his defense corps is probably the best the Avalanche has had since its 2001 Cup-winning team, which included future Hall of Famers Ray Bourque and Rob Blake plus hard-nosed Adam Foote.

That’s high praise.

Josh Manson began his career with the Anaheim Ducks.

(Adam Hunger / Associated Press)

Manson is justifying his place in the group by bringing a keen hunger to win, not just an ability to knock people down.

“I think anytime you go into the playoffs you got to take that mentality of you never know if you’re going to get back, because you may not. You may but you may not, and I think that kind of helps you to focus on the task at hand and really give everything you have because you don’t know,” he said Friday, after the teams practiced in advance of Game 2 on Saturday at Ball Arena.

“The Stanley Cup is such a hard thing to win. You can’t take any moment for granted. So, coming here it was really exciting to get that opportunity again, because after doing it in Anaheim at the beginning of my career and feeling that, I wasn’t sure if it would happen again. So I was really excited.”

The last step to reach the Cup Final was emotional for Manson. Colorado’s opponent in the Western Conference final was the Edmonton Oilers, whose assistant coach is his father, Dave, a feared defenseman in his day. They said little in the post-series handshake line but spoke later as a family.

“It was bittersweet because one of us had to lose but it was still special,” said the younger Manson, who was born in Hinsdale, Ill., while his father played for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dave Manson played 1,103 NHL games and racked up 2,792 penalty minutes, 13th in NHL history. Josh won’t catch him.

“I know the way he played back then is a little bit different. Maybe you can’t get away with as many things today, but I try to take as much as I can from his game,” said Josh, who has 443 penalty minutes in 475 regular-season games. “I think we’re built a little bit the same way, the way we skate and things like that, move the puck. I think we both play a fairly simple game, from what I hear.”

That has worked well for him and for the Avalanche, which has lost only two games in this Cup run. Tampa Bay erased series deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 against Toronto in the first round and 2-0 against the New York Rangers in the Eastern final, and Manson expects the Lightning to show similar resilience Saturday.

“I think they just trust their system. They trust in what they do and how they found success, and they know that if they do that the results usually follow,” he said. “I think that’s kind of the same mantra that we’ve taken on, is if we play the way that we want to, we’ll find success.”

The altitude no longer matters to Manson. The attitude still does.

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