For the first time in nine months, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltender Peter Mannino doesn’t think about the injury that has nagged him since February.
Instead, Mannino’s thoughts center around practices, routines and playing games again.
It took a long time to get there.
Mannino suffered a muscle tear in his leg last season while playing with Manchester, and re-aggravated the injury over the summer. He missed all of training camp and the start of the season.
After going through a lengthy, and at times frustrating, rehab process, Mannino finally got the chance to clear the last hurdle remaining in his recovery — test the injury in a game. That opportunity came Saturday when Mannino made his first start of the year against Worcester.
He turned aside 28-of-30 shots in the 3-2 win and, just as important, came through the contest unscathed.
“Getting in a game and being competitive again, to be able to do that was refreshing,” Mannino said after Wednesday’s practice at Coal Street. “The biggest problem in coming back was getting to the point where I was able to say to myself it’s going to hold up.”
So how did Mannino get to that point? Forwards or defensemen who return from an injury test it out when they absorb that first hit in a game, rip a slapshot or skate without hesitation.
How does a goalie put a healed injury to the test?
“When you’re able to make a save without thinking about it,” Mannino said. “I went through two full weeks of practice and tested it where you kind of know it’s going to be OK, and then you get into a game and reiterate that, so you don’t think about it anymore. You’re confident.”
Confidence is a big deal for a goaltender, and a healthy Mannino coupled with the solid play of Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers has given head coach John Hynes two solid options to choose from. Hynes said the goaltenders will each get a start when the Penguins take on Binghamton this Friday and Norfolk on Saturday.
Having two veterans to choose from is nothing new to Hynes. Over the last three seasons, Hynes’ goaltending tandem consisted of Brad Thiessen with either John Curry, Scott Munroe or Jeff Zatkoff — all of whom were proven veterans at the AHL level.
With Mannino and Deslauriers, Hynes has two goaltenders with a combined 16 seasons of pro experience.
“It’s nice when you have guys back there that have experience and the team feels confident in them,” Hynes said. “You can see it in the way they manage the game and knowing how to handle situations. We feel really confident in both guys.”
For Mannino, having the coach’s confidence is the ultimate compliment and proof that the last hurdle has been cleared in his return.
“I’m 100 percent healthy now and I’m ready to take advantage of playing for this organization,” he said. “Jeff and I feed off each other and hopefully we can give coach Hynes the confidence he needs in his goaltenders. We want him to feel good about putting either one of us in.”
• D Simon Despres practiced in full on Wednesday and has been cleared to return to the lineup, Hynes said. F Tom Kostopoulos is still day-to-day.