Things You Didn't Know About Michael Mantenuto

On April 26, 2017, the Group Commander of the 1st Special Forces, Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere, took to Facebook to announce the loss of SSG Michael Mantenuto. He had been found by the Des Moines Police Department on April 24, and more details about his death came out later when sources told TMZ that his death was ruled a suicide.

Colonel Beaurpere wrote, "Those of you that knew Mike will remember him for his passionate love for his family and his commitment to the health of the force. [...] Our deepest condolences go out to SSG Mantenuto's family, friends and teammates. We are committed to supporting them through this difficult time of loss and grief."

Mantenuto's life as an actor, hockey player, and soldier shows that even though things might not go as planned, we all have the opportunity to touch countless lives — as he did.

He saw his father struggle through serious health problems

Mantenuto's role in Miracle was a natural one: he'd been wearing ice skates since he could walk. That love of ice hockey came from his father, Ed, whose own story is one of incredible strength and determination.

A long-time hockey coach and assistant principal for Holliston High School, the elder Mantenuto suffered a major stroke in the 1993. His road to recovery was a long one, as the stroke left him without the ability to speak or walk. It wasn't until three years after his stroke that he regained the ability to speak, and after leaving his job he worked numerous odd jobs through his rehabilitation. When he was interviewed by in 2004 — only a few weeks after returning from a trip to Hollywood to watch his son walk the red carpet — he talked a bit about how he raised his son and instilled some of the same values that had helped him through his health scare. "I'm tough, but I'm fair," he said. "I was like that as a hockey coach, and I'm like that as a dad."

They spoke to Mantenuto, too, and it was clear that his entire youth had been colored by his father's struggles. Just 12 years old when the stroke happened, it's something he says he was only truly able to understand later. "I am starting to realize more and more now what an ordeal it was for my whole family," he said. "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."

A fight secured him his role in Miracle

Mantenuto played hockey in high school, and his high school coach spoke with about how much he was like his Miracle character. "What you see on the screen — that's what he was like," said Peter Torilli, who worked alongside Mantenuto's father to coach the team. "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."

That attitude was what got Mantenuto the role in Miracle, even though he had been convinced that he'd lost it. When he was in Los Angeles auditioning for the part, one of the hockey players on set for the audition started trash-talking the actors. Mantenuto stepped in, the gloves came off, and the fight started.

"He was being a tough guy, picking on all the kids," he said later. "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 [O'Connor, the film's director] to apologize, but he was very happy. He was pumped."

Instead of sending him home, he put him in the movie and on the poster.

His military training was hardcore

While most people recognize him from Miracle, those same people might be wondering just what happened to his dream of becoming an actor. Two years after scoring a part in the 2008 Matthew McConaughey comedy Surfer, Dude, his career went in a different direction and he enlisted in the US military.

Mantenuto didn't just enlist, he went on to be assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group, and to go through a program called SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape). He was an Army Special Forces K-9 handler, as well. After Mantenuto's death, official statements were released from his commanding officers at Fort Bragg, and People gives us a run-down of just how incredible his military background was, according to the statement. His awards included an Army Commendation Medal, an Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, National Defense Service Member, a Good Conduct Medal with two knots, and an Army Service Ribbon.

Tributes from his colleagues flooded social media after his death, including one comment from US Army Specialist Samantha Brinegar. "In life, you find those that inspire you and mentor you," she wrote on Facebook (via People). "SSG Mike Mantenuto was not only that for me but for my team."

Operation Inherent Resolve

During his time in the military, Mantenuto was a part of Operation Inherent Resolve, and according to Army Times, the hockey player turned movie star turned Green Beret was deployed on the front lines on the war against ISIS. Operation Inherent Resolve was founded in 2014, after towns across Iraq started falling into the control of a new terrorist threat, and the joint task force was formed with the ultimate goal of returning some kind of stability and freedom to the entire area. Mantenuto was dispatched to both Syria and Iraq, and according to what TMZ was told, he was a different person when he came back.

"Something happened over there. He saw something," TMZ reported an anonymous source as saying. The Daily News identified that source as his father, and those sorts of claims are taken very, very seriously. They also noted that the Army was conducting its own investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

He worked with a veterans' support group

After his death, Mantenuto's friend Wendy Wilson-Heid spoke to The Daily Mail about the generous, caring soul she had first met at the Cedar Hills Hospital in Portland, Oregon, then later knew through a veterans' support group they both belonged to and worked with. According to her, he never stopped loving acting, but vaguely referred to demons that continued to haunt him. After they met, they co-founded the support group for those veterans fighting the same fight, and she denied reports that something overseas had changed him, even though she did reveal he had left the K-9 unit he had loved. "I didn't get into it with him about why that had happened," she said. "He just said, 'I need to get my life together and I couldn't do it by doing that.'"

Mantenuto's colleagues also confirmed that he had reached out to countless people who were suffering through the same issues he was, and that he had been speaking extensively at Fort Lewis, Washington. One of the people who had attended his classes was Matthew Martell, who also spoke with The Daily Mail. He had nothing but good things to say about Mantenuto, saying that he would put aside his own issues if it meant helping others. "He really tried his best to ensure that if the soldiers beneath us or anyone had issues to do with anything, they would know what they needed to do to get help. He was an advocate for people seeking counselling. [...] When he taught [his counseling classes], he was very raw, very real, but so passionate because of what he had been through in his life. He didn't want to see anybody else fall into the traps that he did."

He was arrested in 2013

In July 2013, Star News Online ran a story about an incident that edged toward violence in a Wilmington, North Carolina pizza parlor. According to a spokesperson from the Wilmington Police Department, officers responded to a call from a pizza place where employees had reported that a man had hit — and shattered — the glass pizza case, and he was still there when officers arrived. The employee pointed out Mantenuto and officers had to give chase — briefly — before arresting him.

The pizza place's manager said that his anger had been directed at a nearby ATM, and Andy Avgerinos was quoted as saying, "It's a late, late crowd and he had some problem. [...] He couldn't operate the ATM."

Just what the cause of the incident was isn't clear, but Mantenuto not only paid the bond to be released from the New Hanover County jail, but he also settled up with the pizza place for the cost of the case and the pizza that was thrown away. At the time, Mantenuto listed his occupation as a soldier, but the paper also noted that Fort Bragg denied he was stationed there at the time of the incident.

The real Jack O'Callahan was a fan

The hockey player that Mantenuto found fame playing was Jack O'Callahan, a Boston-born Irishman who played for Boston University before heading to the Chicago Blackhawks and later the New Jersey Devils. He's still most famous for the events depicted in Miracle — especially his determination in overcoming a knee injury to skate in that final, epic game of the 1980 Olympics — and in 2007, he spoke to Irish America about not only that game, but the movie.

"They cast Michael Mantenuto, an Italian guy, in my role," O'Callahan told them, "and an Irish guy, Patrick O'Brien Dempsey as [team captain] Mike Eruzione. Mike and I still both laugh about that. I think all the actors did great and they were really into it, as most had grown up as hockey players and knew our story."

O'Callahan also praised the accuracy of the film, and it's no coincidence that the movie got it right — he consulted on the project, and spent hours talking about just what happened and how they were going to be able to do the epic win the most justice. He noted, though, that there was one scene that definitely didn't happen in real life, the fight between Mantenuto's version of O'Callahan and the Minnesota-born Rob McClanahan. "Robby was much too smart to start a fight with an Irish guy from Charlestown," he joked.

The Veterans Crisis Line

"I don't know what Mike was thinking when he killed himself," Wendy Wilson-Heid told The Daily Mail. "I have no idea. I don't know why he didn't call one of us. Because there's a whole group of people [who would have helped him]."

Mantenuto left behind a wife and two children, along with countless people he had helped through their own battles and problems. What happens to cause a tragedy like this is truly only known to one person and one person alone, but there are numerous resources out there that can help anyone who is struggling. The Veterans Crisis Line is available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and veterans — or their friends and family — can call 1-800-273-8255 to get help 24/7. For non-veterans, there's help, too. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7, at the same number: 1-800-273-8255. Trained crisis workers are always available to provide a host of resources all designed to help each individual person get the help they need.