It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place for forward Mark Mancari.
In four of the last five years, Mancari has posted 20 goal seasons; he’s been an AHL All-Star twice and holds the record for the hardest shot (102.8mph), yet he’s stuck in the AHL.
He’s caught in tweenerland, where a player is exceptional at the AHL level, but for any number of reasons can’t seem to find their way to the NHL on a consistent basis, which has left Mancari somewhat frustrated.
“It’s definitely disappointing not to be in the NHL,” said Mancari. “That was my number goal, that’s what we’re all here for. I’m not upset to be in Portland. I like the coaching staff. I like the team and the organization.”
“I guess you could say that I’m upset to be sent down. I’m frustrated with that. I’ve given five years to Buffalo and I think I’ve been fairly good (in the AHL) the last five (seasons).”
Mancari has been a good player in the AHL. He’s lead the Sabres’ farm team the last three seasons – tied with former Sabres Tim Kennedy in ’08-’09 – in Rochester and Portland. In 362 games, Mancari scored 119 goals, 178 assists for 297 points with a plus-18 rating. However, he’s only been able to play 16 NHL games over his five years pro, scoring five points (2g, 3a) in that span.
“I have to be in a situation where I can get an opportunity,” he said. “A lot of (making the NHL) is about getting an opportunity. Buffalo has a lot of one-way (contracts), and it makes it hard for guys down here (to get shot).”Now, Mancari says he’s not sulking about his demotion to Portland, he knew it was a possibility when he re-signed with the Sabres this summer. As a restricted free agent, he knew Buffalo owned his NHL rights, but when he was extended a qualifying offer, it was rejected leaving the Sabres and Mancari’s agent JP Barry to work out a one-year, two-way contract.
Mancari also isn’t second guessing himself about what he could have done different to stay in Buffalo.
He knows that he has aspects of his game that he needs to work on, and he acknowledged coming to Portland meant it would be another season of working with Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen.
“My consistency and my foot speed,” said Mancari on aspects where he still needs to improve. “I’ve learn a lot from having Kevin Dineen as a coach. He’s really helped me mature the last couple of years.”
“You can only control the things you control, and coming down here my last two years I’ve been over or close 70 points so I’m doing all that can on the ice and during games. I just have to keep working on my speed.”
“Hopefully that will be what gets me to that next level,” he said… “I think if you come down here and dwell and sulk, you’re trying to figure out why you’re not (in Buffalo), it’s going to take away from your game (in Portland), and it’s going to take away your opportunity to go back.”
That said it looks like this will certainly be his last season with the Pirates and very well could be the last year with the Sabres. Last might have been his last season as Mancari was inundated with offers from Europe, but heading overseas would have delayed his ability to become an unrestricted free agent, potentially signing with the Sabres or another NHL team.
“Europe was something that we definitely looked at,” he said. “We didn’t want to eliminate any option and there were a lot of great offers, a lot of good teams in good cities, at the end of the day I missed being an unrestricted free agent by 10 days so if I went away it almost eliminates my goal of trying to make the NHL and Buffalo would retain my rights.”
Mancari squashed his critics’ beliefs that he needs to play a more physical game. At 6-3, 225-pounds, many have questioned Mancari’s toughness on the ice, playing it off as he’s too finesse for his size.
Mancari certain doesn’t believe so and neither do the Sabres.
“A lot of people think or have said that because (I’m) a big guy and (I) needs to do this or that and Buffalo doesn’t say that,” Mancari said. “Buffalo said I don’t have to. They want me to score goals and be an offensive (player).”
“I think they were pleased with my camp.”
NOTES: The Pirates held their first full practice now that everyone has finally arrived from Buffalo. Portland will travel tomorrow to play the Manchester Monarchs in their lone preseason game at Conway Arena in Nashua, NH at 8pm. The Pirates prepared putting their first semblance of a hockey team on the ice, skating four lines and three pairs of defensemen.
~David Leggio will most likely get the start in Nashua tomorrow with Alex Petizian as backup. Dineen didn’t sound very confident today that Jhonas Enroth will arrive in Portland for the start of the season.
~Jacob Lagace skated in practice, but is dealing with a slight lower body injury.
~Mancari and Marc-Andre Gragnani have cleared waivers. Gragnani suffered a knee sprain during rookie camp and will be out until late October. The Sabres have placed Matt Ellis on waivers. Ellis played 12 games for the Pirates in the ’08-’09 season, scoring two goals, two assists. If he clears waivers, he’ll be assigned to Portland.