Peter Mannino has played with a lot of proven NHL goaltenders throughout his career — Ondrej Pavelec, Chris Mason, Kari Lehtonen and Manny Legace to name a few.
But he doesn’t try to be like any of them.
Instead, Mannino just takes bits of pieces of what he’s learned from his former teammates and incorporates it all into his own unique style of goaltending. It’s a formula that has made Mannino successful through six seasons of pro hockey.
“Every goalie is special in their own way and you come to appreciate that,” Mannino said. “But there’s not going to be another (Henrik) Lundqvist or (Dominik) Hasek out there. Anyone who tries to copy them is never going to get there. You have to be your own self.”
The way Mannino has played of late, the only copying going on will come from other players trying to be like him.
Through the month of March, Mannino made eight starts and never allowed more than two goals. He posted two shutouts and held teams to one goal or less five times, posting an astounding 1.12 goals against average and a .949 save percentage.
Sure, there may be hints of Pavelec, Mason and Lehtonen in his game, but the style is all Mannino.
“You have to have a good base and play to what makes you special,” he said. “When you’re in the right scenario, you’re game can really click.”
The hot stretch is a far reversal to what Mannino went through earlier in the season. He signed an AHL contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the summer and had two starts in October during which he allowed two goals in each. After one start in November where Mannino allowed five goals on 24 shots, his season took a different turn when he was sent to Wheeling.
The veteran netminder began to question his role in the organization.
“I always wanted to be here, but my mentality was if I’m not going to be a part of this can I go elsewhere?” Mannino said.
Mannino didn’t accept the assignment to Wheeling and was suspended by the organization. A stalemate endured for almost three months until Mannino agreed to report to Wheeling in late January.
While he was out, Mannino continued to practice back home in Michigan and he quickly began to miss the game he loved.
“It was frustrating just knowing you could contribute but you’re not able to,” he said.
As frustrating as the time off was, there may have been a benefit as well, according to head coach John Hynes.
“Sometimes when you get time off, it puts things in perspective. You realize just how much you miss not only the game, but being around the team” Hynes said. “A lot of times, that helps a player when they come back.”
That’s what happened with Mannino, who came back refreshed, energized and motivated to resume a career that he had worked so hard to build over the last six seasons. It was a process that began back in 2008 when Mannino wrapped up his college career with the University of Denver and turned pro with the New York Islanders organization.
And that’s when Mannino got his first exposure of being around goaltenders who had already established pro careers like the one he wanted.
“My first year I played with Yann Danis in Bridgeport and Joey MacDonald in Long Island, and they both had really different styles. Yann was very methodical, very technical, and Joey is a little old school with a tendency to play reactive,” Mannino said. “But the one thing I realized from watching them was you had to be patient. All the others I played with — Pavelec and Mason, their patience was just fascinating.”
And patience is the key to keeping a level head in a position that comes with the pressure of being the last resort when it comes to making the save that can win a game or even keep a season alive.
It’s also a useful attribute for dealing with high expectations and for transforming the pressure of being a goaltender into something beneficial.
“The margin for error with this position is so small and there’s always expectations that you want to meet and surpass in order to get to another level — or even get another year,” Mannino said. “In pro hockey, you’re only as good as your last game. But you quickly find out that you have to approach things even-keel and not just rush right out of the gates.”
Now that Mannino’s season is back on course, he has taken on another kind of pressure — backstopping the Penguins into the playoffs. It’s a time of year when everything is magnified and games are often won or lost based on how well the guy at the end of the ice plays between the pipes.
“That’s why we play goalie — to be the last guy back there to bail your team out. You accept that,” Mannino said. “I embrace it.”