News your connection to The Boston Globe

'Miracle' role a win in many ways for local player

Shares drive, determination with dad who overcame stroke

Call it a tale of two miracles.

The first is captured in the new movie "Miracle": how the 1980 US Olympic hockey team came up from behind to defeat a near-invincible Soviet team, and went on to win a gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y. The other is a lesser-known miracle with a triumph still in the works.

Audiences watching the film, which opened nationwide this month, will recognize tough-talking defenseman Jack O'Callahan in 22-year-old Holliston actor Michael Mantenuto. What many won't recognize, however, is how much of a victory Mantenuto's starring role represents.

It was his father, Ed, who taught Mantenuto, a former Division I college hockey player, to skate. It was his father who fueled his love for hockey. So it came as a blow to the family when Ed Mantenuto suffered a near-fatal stroke more than a decade ago, leaving him temporarily paralyzed and robbing him of the ability to speak for three years.

Eleven years later, he is walking and talking again. And Michael Mantenuto, in his first role in a major motion picture, is winning accolades for his acting and athleticism.

Until his stroke, Mantenuto was the assistant principal at Holliston High School and the school's hockey coach.

He had to leave his job, and over the last decade he held a variety of odd jobs to pay for his rehabilitation and support his family. He began working as a hall monitor at Algonquin Regional High School two years ago.

"I am starting to realize more and more now what an ordeal it was for my whole family," Michael Mantenuto said from Los Angeles last week. "I was running from it for a long time. It was difficult to see my father, who I looked up to as a hero, dealing with some of the things he did."

After years of rehabilitation, Ed Mantenuto, when he's not in the stands for high school hockey, is now the stern, gravelly voice demanding hall passes from students. Michael Mantenuto guesses that few of them know that two weeks ago, Ed was in Hollywood for the movie premiere, watching his son walk down the red carpet, pose for cameras, and do interviews.

"No, I don't think any of them really know what's happened all these years," said Ed Mantenuto, whose speech is slower and more deliberate as a result of the stroke. "I think they look at me and think of me as the guy who's in the halls. . . . I'm tough, but I'm fair. I was like that as a hockey coach, and I'm like that as a dad."

From the moment his son could walk, Ed Mantenuto put him in ice skates.

Michael's three sisters grew up figure skating while he learned hockey. As a child, he accompanied his father to practices at the high school and later donned skates himself to play for the team.

After high school, Michael Mantenuto went on to play Division I hockey at the University of Maine. He left during his sophomore year, and took acting classes at University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Those two skills landed him a coveted role in "Miracle." Posters of the film -- directed by Gavin O'Connor and starring Kurt Russell -- depict Michael Mantenuto's portrayal of O'Callahan's reaction (kneeling, arms up, and mouth open in disbelief) to the US win.

"With this movie, I was able to combine the different parts of my life that were important to me," said Michael Mantenuto, who was working on a fishing boat in Gloucester when he heard of the casting call.

"To be able to combine the acting, all the expression, the hockey, and be able to segue from one career that I loved so much to another where I wanted my life to go . . . It was pretty special," he said.

The film has inspired local youth hockey teams in the region. Youth leagues in Holliston, Southborough, and Walpole have all organized group outings to see it, as have high school hockey teams, including Holliston's.

"I hope kids learn never to give up, that with determination and hard work, you can achieve anything," Ed Mantenuto said. "I did it, Michael did it, all my kids did it."

Peter Torilli, who coached Michael Mantenuto when he was a student at Holliston High School, said the younger Mantenuto shared some of the charisma and grit of O'Callahan.

"What you see on the screen -- that's what he was like," said Torilli, who was Ed Mantenuto's assistant coach when he worked in Holliston. "He was tough and determined, and he was a heck of a player, too. He was very confident in himself. I didn't know he wanted to be an actor then, but I definitely knew he wanted to play."

In fact, it was his instinctual brashness that drew the director to Michael Mantenuto during an audition in Los Angeles.

One of the hockey players, he said, began taunting other actors, and he immediately took to their defense. The gloves came off, and he began fighting the hockey player. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw O'Connor watching him, and he thought he had lost the role.

"He was being a tough guy, picking on all the kids," Michael Mantenuto said. "When people do stuff like that -- I don't know, it gets under my skin. I wasn't really looking to fight, but once we started fighting, I thought I was going home. . . . Afterwards, I went up to Gavin to apologize, but he was very happy. He was pumped."

Daniel Esdale, president of Massachusetts Hockey, a statewide youth hockey league, remembers Michael as a skilled hockey player who inherited the drive and determination of his father.

"They both had that same quality," Esdale said. "What Ed has done to get better from his stroke, and what Michael probably did to get to where he is now -- it's from that same work ethic."

Eun Lee Koh can be reached at or 508-820-4238.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives