Peter Mannino skated onto the ice during the second period of last Friday’s game in Syracuse and found himself in a spot he never thought he’d be in again.
The veteran netminder was suspended by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Nov. 20 after he refused to report to the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL. For the next two months Mannino sat out until late January when he reported to Wheeling.
And now, after being called up by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Mannino is back where he was when the season started and everything seemed fine.
The reason for refusing to report to the Nailers had nothing to do with Wheeling, Mannino said, and everything to do with opportunity. During the summer Mannino, 30, had intentions of continuing his playing career in Europe. That was before the injury to Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun occurred, opening up potential opportunities throughout the organization.
Mannino, who has 83 wins in the AHL and six NHL games, signed an AHL deal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with the belief he would get a crack at one of the goaltending jobs bound to open up in the organization.
But things got a little crowded when the Penguins signed another veteran goaltender, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, just before the start of the season. Deslauriers started the first four games before Mannino got on the ice.
“At that point, when I was here from the start of the season until November I don’t feel like the opportunity was really there any more,” Mannino said after Wednesday’s practice. “Management goes in different directions and things happen. I accepted that.”
Then, after making three starts for the Penguins, Mannino was assigned to Wheeling when the team recalled rookie Eric Hartzell to the AHL. At that point, Mannino said, he felt Penguins’ management was headed in a direction that wouldn’t afford him much of an opportunity to make an impact at the AHL level this season.
Rather than report to Wheeling, Mannino decided to ask for a trade or his release so he could play in Europe.
“(Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill) had a different opinion on that, which created a jam between the two sides,” Mannino said. “I just didn’t feel right. That’s when I made the decision to do what I did.”
During the suspension Mannino said both sides remained cordial and he had a numerous discussions with Botterill. In the end, both sides agreed it was best for Mannino to report to Wheeling and Botterill, he said, was open to a trade or release to Europe if the opportunity arose.
“If something comes up he’ll take a look at it. I’m thankful for that and thankful for Jason allowing me to come back,” Mannino said.
Mannino appeared in six games with the Nailers from Jan. 26 to Feb. 21, winning three and posting a 2.72 GAA and a .915 save percentage. After Hartzell struggled through the month of February with the Penguins, the two goaltenders swapped teams and Mannino suddenly found himself back with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“It was a shock. I won’t hide that,” he said. “I thought this was off the table. This is where I wanted to be from the beginning and it’s a positive outcome.”
Mannino has played well in the two games he appeared in since returning to the Penguins. Last Friday against Syracuse he stopped 18-of-19 shots in relief of Deslauriers. The next night he got the start against Albany and guided the Penguins to a 2-1 win.
“He did a nice job of holding the fort in Syracuse and he was ready to play against Albany,” said Penguins head coach John Hynes. “He was consistent in managing the game, his rebound control was good and he had leadership back there. It was nice for our team.”
Now, Mannino hopes to continue to put any bad feelings about the suspension in the past and continue to rebuild a positive relationship with the Pittsburgh organization.
“To be back at this level I feel very confident,” he said. “In a weird way it worked itself out and I’ll get more comfortable as it goes on.”
• Wednesday’s trade deadline was a quiet one for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Pittsburgh traded three draft picks for two players — Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak, both of whom will remain with the parent club.
• Pittsburgh did re-assign veteran Chuck Kobasew to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday and placed Brian Gibbons and Simon Despres on the AHL roster, making them eligible for the stretch and playoffs if the NHL club chooses to send them down.