January 25, 2011

AHL Journal: Mancari stars despite snubs

Mark Mancari of the Portland Pirates scored eight goals last week to increase his league-leading total to 26. (photo: Dan Hickling/New England Hockey Journal)

You may have noticed that Mark Mancari’s name was among the missing, when selections for the upcoming AHL All-Star Classic were announced a week ago.

You also may have noticed that the big Portland Pirates winger’s name was nowhere to be found on the transaction wire, when the parent Buffalo Sabres dipped down to bring up one … two … three injury replacements.

Now, you will notice that Mancari, 25, shrugged off those slights and put up a week’s worth of numbers that would make a season — or even a career for someone else.

Indeed, Mancari, who has been toiling away in the Sabres’ system for six long seasons, pulled the Pirates on his wide shoulders and hauled them back into the Atlantic Division top spot.

Portland won three of four games last week, with Mancari hammering home eight goals (and setting up two others), to increase his league-leading total to 26.

But while he was blasting his way to the AHL’s Player of the Week Award, his teammates Marc-Andre Gragnani, Matt Ellis and Paul Byron were all jumping over him and into the Sabres injury depleted lineup.

For Byron, who like Mancari was a late-round draftee, it was his NHL debut.

That left Mancari, who has logged just 19 NHL games over four seasons (including three earlier this season) standing at the corner of Get Mad and Get Ignited.

Which way did he go? You get eight guesses.

“I’m extremely happy for Paul Byron, Matt Ellis and also Marc-Andre,” Mancari said after scoring a hat trick against the Providence Bruins on Saturday. “(They’re) all good friends of mine, and all well deserved. When there’s a call-up, you’re hoping that it’s you. And when it’s not, you’re a little down. But all you can do is keep working. You’ve got to look at the big picture, and when things happen, it’s not always going to be you. I’ve found that out over the past six years.”

All that Mancari has done over the previous three seasons is lead all Sabres farmhands in scoring.

He’s well on is way to making it a fourth.

One wonders what NHL team couldn’t use a big-bodied winger with a high compete level, a Howitzer of a point shot, a deft touch around the net, and an exceptional ability to pass the puck.

Certainly, the Sabres — who are a full generation removed from the high-flying French Connection days — could.

“I think Mark Mancari has decided to take care of what he can control,” Portland coach Kevin Dineen said. “He knows I’m a believer in him as a player. We continue to work with him to make him a full-time NHL player. We both believe that that is going to happen.”

Just when, and where, for that matter, is the $100,000 question.

“Like I said,” Mancari said, “I’m extremely happy for them, and hopefully when there’s another (call-up), I’ll get my shot.”

Around the AHL

Mancari has made two previous AHL All-Star appearances, and his 102.5 mph blast during the 2008 Skills Contest in Binghamton stands as an AHL All-Star record. One would think that the league would find a way to shoehorn its third leading point-getter onto the Eastern Conference squad. …

The Manchester Monarchs have enjoyed top-notch goaltending throughout the team’s 10-year history, with current NHL players Jason LaBarbera and Jonathan Bernier heading the list. Rookie All-Star selection Martin Jones and crease partner Jeff Zatkoff are the current occupants of the cage.

However, in recent weeks, two former Monarchs goalies have made triumphant returns to the Verizon Wireless Arena at their old mates’ expense.

First, it was Daniel Taylor who led the Springfield Falcons to an early season win. Then on Saturday, ex-Monarch Barry Brust, now of the Binghamton Senators, pulled off a 38-save gem (and picked up a roughing minor) in a Bingo 5-2 win.

“It was my first trip back in four years,” Brust said. “It was nice to come back. I enjoyed my two years here.”

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com