By now, every St. John’s IceCaps fan knows Michael Hutchinson’s story — signed to a free agent contract by the Winnipeg Jets last summer (one of the few offers he had), started the year in the ECHL, recalled to the American Hockey League, and finished off the regular season with the Jets, where he beat the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames after losing his NHL debut 1-0 to the Minnesota Wild.
Today, Hutchinson is a big reason why St. John’s is deep in the Calder Cup playoffs, in the Eastern Conference final against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Of course, Hutchinson isn’t the only goalie in this series with a neat, against-the-odds background.
The Penguins’ Peter Mannino has had his moments, too.
“It’s been an interesting year,” smiles Mannino, who was a member of that first IceCaps team back in 2011-12.
Since then, he’s played for the AHL’s Portland Pirates and the ECHL’s Chicago Express, and last year with the Manchester Monarchs of the American league.
Last summer, Mannino signed with the Penguins organization and that’s where the story continues.
He missed all of training camp after re-aggravating an injury he suffered last season. He returned to the lineup in mid-October, played a few games, but was victimized for five goals on 19 shots through two periods during a game in Albany against the Devils.
Shortly after that outing, Mannino was assigned to the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers.
It was an assignment he refused.
A 30-year-old veteran of six pro seasons, Mannino was suspended by the Penguins and for the next two months, stayed at home in the Detroit area skating with some former Ontario Hockey League players.
The days were long and an uncertain future hung over the goalie’s head.
“It was a tough spot to be in, but it was a business decision and these types of things happen,” he says today.
“I felt I had to make a stand.”
Eventually, Mannino relented and reported to Wheeling. He made six starts, going 3-3, before the call was put out from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“We were having our struggles in net,” said Penguins coach John Hynes. “We had been consistent up to that point with (Jeff) Deslauriers and the kid (Eric) Hartzell (who was the AHL’s goalie of month in January).
“But both were struggling and we were looking for a guy to come in and solidify things.
“When Peter came back, we talked to all three guys and told them it was a little bit of a competition as far as who it’s going to be in net.
“And he took the bull by the horns.”
While Deslauriers made 40 starts for the Penguins and Hartzell 25, Mannino only got into 18 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but they were towards the end of the season when the Penguins squeaked into the playoffs sixth overall in the East.
“Since he came back, he’s been very good,” Hynes said of his goalie. “Really good, actually.
“One of the things that stand out are his demeanour and his personality. He’s a pretty focused guy, but he doesn’t get too high or too low. He takes everything in stride.
“He brings a leadership presence to the team, and part of it is that he’s been around and he’s had a bit of a tough road. So a lot of times his shared experiences with the younger guys are not taking things for granted.
“You can see the guys enjoy being around him and they like playing in front of him.”
Mannino has been very good in the post season, playing every minute in goal, going 8-5 with a 2.44 goals against average and .907 save percentage.
He was in a tough situation in St. John’s two years ago, battling for playing time in a crowded crease that also included Eddie Pasquale and former NHLer David Aebischer.
Mannino was eventually moved to the Portland Pirates, where he appeared in 15 games. He also played a bit in the ECHL that season, with the Express (22 games).
“I’m lucky to be playing this sport for a living,” he says, “and goalie spots are so limited.
“I’ve always felt that if I can get an opportunity, and someone believes in me, I can do well.
“It took a while to work out, but things are going so well here. I’m very thankful and I suppose lucky. I’m with a great organization, we’re deep in the playoffs with a good shot at winning it all.
“What more could you ask for?”