by Greg Cavanaugh || AHL On The Beat Archive
You never know what you are going to see when you go to an American Hockey League game.
On Jan. 29, Mark Mancari of the Portland Pirates hit the back of the net with a mere bat of an eyelash remaining on the clock to tie the game at 2-2 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The goal forced overtime and eventually a shootout.
And guess who scored the game-winner in the shootout. That’s right, Mancari.
So it’s somewhat hard to imagine that there was a chance, albeit slim, that Mancari wasn’t going to suit up for the 2009-10 season.
The 2009-10 season started with the 24-year-old right wing emerged in his first contract squabble, one that kept him off the ice and at home during Buffalo Sabres training camp.
And while Mancari was certainly comfortable on the ice coming off AHL career highs in goals (29), assists (38) and points (67) in 2008-09, he admits he was not so comfortable at his home during the negotiations.
“It was hard to sit at home and work out a contract and watch my guys and my teammates try out for Buffalo and play games,” explained Mancari. “I just kept my mind ready, I knew where I wanted to be and we got something accomplished.”
With the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted, Mancari centered his focus on Portland and helping his team while honing his craft to be NHL ready. However, Mancari and his teammates stumbled out of the gates unable to rise above .500 until a Nov. 29 victory in Springfield put the Pirates at 11-10-3-0.
“The better your team does, the better it is for everyone to get that opportunity to play at the next level,” said Mancari. “In the American League you work on and follow through the system of your parent club, so you listen to your coaches and work hard with your teammates and do the best you can do to make it to the next level.”
Mancari’s philosophy would prove to have merit as the Buffalo Sabres came calling for his services for a game on Dec. 12 versus the New York Rangers. It would be Mancari’s 11th appearance in the NHL, where he has registered a goal and two assists. Thus far, it remains his only appearance of the season.
Getting the call is not something Mancari focuses on so much these days. He is a true believer that if he stays within the system, listens to his coaches, and helps make his teammates get better then everything else will take care of itself.
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“You have to focus on where you are at, you can’t wake up every morning and ask ‘is today the day?’” said Mancari, a five-year AHL veteran. “The first couple years I thought a lot about it, and I learned to just play or else it can throw your game off. When you are with the Pirates that is your team, your number one goal is to win there and let the rest fall into place.”
The focus on winning in Portland has shown, both in Mancari’s numbers and in his team’s results.
After Mancari put the game into overtime with his buzzer beater, he promptly put away the game-winner in the shootout giving the Pirates their second straight win. The Pirates have extended that streak to six wins, and since the calendar changed to 2010 they’ve collected points in 12 of 15 games (11-3-1-0).
With 49 points in 49 games this season, Mancari has put a major stamp on his team’s success. On Feb. 8, he was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week after sporting seven points and a plus-7 in three wins for the Pirates. He also recorded his 20th goal of the season in a win at Lowell on Saturday, his fourth consecutive 20-goal campaign.
Don’t be fooled by the offensive numbers though. Mancari is widely regarded as a strong two-way player as evidenced by his plus-15 rating (second on the team only to All-Star teammate Mike Weber’s plus-17).
That’s something the former defenseman takes a lot of pride in.
“If I can play at both ends of the ice, it’s an important thing,” said the London, Ont., native. “If you want to play in the NHL, you can’t just be offensive, you have to be deep defensively to. It’s very important to make that adjustment, you can’t just go out there with one tool, you need to put in a good all-around game.”
Consistency is the name of the game for Mancari, and when consistency isn’t enough a seldom seen clock busting shot will have to suffice.
“I have never been in a game like that,” Mancari said. “When I scored, I was looking up at the clock and the clock wasn’t working so they had that different clock. I didn’t have any idea how much time was left until the guys told me. It was a lot of fun, and the guys were all excited. It was just a fun night for me.”