ANAHEIM, Calif.— Anaheim Ducks prospect Josh Manson and Built Ford Tough Series standout Tanner Byrne had many sleepovers growing up together in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
The two young Canadian hockey players would wake up before the moon said goodnight and head to the ice rink for a 6 a.m. practice. Inside the arena, Tanner would dish the puck across the ice to Manson during their time with the Prince Albert Ice and Pirates.
They were just two kids with a palate for big dreams.
Josh had his set on following in his father’s footsteps of reaching the NHL, while Tanner had his goals rooted in following in his dad Ryan’s success in the rodeo industry.
“Those are some of my favorite moments growing up with Tanner, just heading to the rink early in the morning,” Manson said. “I remember being younger saying, because my dad played professional hockey and Tanner’s dad was remarkable as (a bull fighter), ‘What if we could both follow in our dad’s footsteps and do what we love professionally?”
Manson made his NHL debut for the Ducks last Halloween and is currently playing for the Ducks’ top minor-league affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia. On Friday night, Byrne will nod his head inside the Honda Center in Anaheim for the first time in his career in the same arena where Manson hopes to someday hoist the Stanley Cup.
“I dreamed of being in the Built Ford Tough Series and winning a World Championship and he dreamed of playing in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup,” Byrne said. “It is like we are on that track.”
The two professional athletes began to develop a close friendship once Manson’s father, Dave, retired in 2002 following an 18-year playing career.
Dave and Ryan Byrne became good friends through their popularity in Prince Albert and interest in each other’s relative sport.
Therefore, it was only fitting that their families and two boys wound up becoming just as close.
Tanner’s attended his first NHL hockey game during the1996-97 season when Dave was playing in Phoenix, the same city where Tanner finished second last year, positioning himself as a BFTS mainstay, and Josh has attended multiple bull ridings and rodeos put on by the Byrne family in Prince Albert.
Their fathers served as examples and inspirations that their dreams were indeed attainable.
“It helped with our dads and how good they did with their careers and we had something to look up to,” Byrne said. “We both had that same attitude to be the best. We wanted to be the best because that is what we knew growing up.”
They may be on opposite coasts of the United States this weekend, and thousands of miles apart throughout the year, but Tanner and Josh talk on a near-daily basis.
Tanner is a converted Ducks fan nowadays and attended a game Tuesday, and Josh is an avid PBR follower and will watch BFTS events on CarbonTV.com from his cell phone during East Coast road trips on the Admirals’ team bus.
“When he got drafted to the Ducks, it was just amazing in itself,” Byrne said. “I was fired up for him and he told me, ‘It is just a stepping stone. It is one thing to get drafted, but you need to make it.’ I always knew he had what it took.”
“When he got called up to the Ducks this year, my life pretty much revolved around watching hockey, “ Byrne later added. “My wife was so mad. I would be like, ‘Oh, the Ducks are on, I can’t do anything.”
The tough-nosed Manson has appeared in 18 games for the Ducks thus far this season.
Josh still remembers in high school when Tanner would walk through the door with a limp or holding his shoulder after a long weekend of bull riding. The younger of the two boys wouldn’t complain about it, but just re-tell the vivid story of how this bull or that one hung him up or bucked him off.
Manson says that the more he learns about bull riding, the more humbling it is when he thinks about his own professional sport. There are times where he and his teammates will feel the grind of a 72-game season in the AHL that normally is accompanied with nine-hour bus trips.
He then remembers he doesn’t have to face a 1,600-pound animal every weekend.
“I have the utmost respect for the guys and what they push their bodies through,” Manson said. “A guy gets injured in hockey; maybe you take the weekend off and let your body heal up. Tanner hurt his knee before. If a hockey player hurts his knee, they are out for months sometimes and he got right back on the next weekend. Things like that I can’t believe.”
Manson gives credit to Byrne and the other bull riders for having the mental fortitude to focus every weekend knowing that if they fail their paychecks will also show reflect that.
He poses the question, “Could you imagine if you had a bad game and all of sudden you get your paycheck at the end of the week and it is nothing or is a lot smaller?”
“I couldn’t imagine how it would be for me like that,” Manson admitted. “I respect him for that. That is a mental battle in itself.”
Through all of the ups and downs of being professional athletes, the two remain committed to each other.
What once began as a dream for the two Prince Albert boys is now indeed reality.
“This last year, everything kind of fell together and we talk to each other all about it and it is pretty cool,” Manson said.
Byrne added, “It is pretty cool to know that you are following your dreams together.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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