|Daniel Manzato of the Las Vegas Wranglers was named the ECHL’s Saver of the Month for November, when he went 5-0-0 with a 1.57 GAA.|
It wasn’t too long ago when the Las Vegas Wranglers coach had never heard the name Daniel Manzato. Now, Gulutzan spends plenty of pre-game skates walking up to the 23-year-old netminder saying; “Manzy, you’re going tonight?”
And why not?
In his first season in North America, the Swiss netminder has dominated the ECHL. His play (10-3-1, 2.26 GAA, .921 save percentage) has helped the Wranglers jump out to a 12-point lead in the Pacific Division. Manzato was named the ECHL’s Saver of the Month for November, when he went 5-0-0 with a 1.57 GAA.
“He’s played real well for us,” Gulutzan said. “He’s come in and done a good job. He’s played a lot of hockey for us. I can see why Carolina has some interest in him. He’s a good technical goalie. He works hard and he wants to learn. He’s a good kid.”
Manzato arrived in Las Vegas after being reassigned by the Carolina Hurricanes, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. After four seasons in the Swiss-A League, Manzato was ready to tackle North America.
“I was very happy to be drafted by an NHL team,” Manzato said. “When I decided to come from Switzerland to North America, my goal was to try to play in the NHL. I will work hard for that and do my best every day to have a chance one day to play in the NHL.”
Gulutzan was not familiar with Manzato until he received a call from Charlotte Checkers coach Derek Wilkinson. With two contracted goalies on his roster, Wilkinson was able to sneak Manzato in two games early this season -- Manzato was originally reassigned by Carolina to Charlotte -- but simply couldn’t give him the development time he needed.
Gulutzan quickly jumped on the opportunity to bring Manzato to “Sin City,” which provided Las Vegas with two No. 1 goaltenders. The Wranglers also have Calgary Flames prospect Kevin Lalande, who has a 1.18 GAA in five appearances.
“It’s been good,” Gulutzan said. “We’ve also got Kevin Lalande here from Calgary. It’s good to have two good goalies, that’s for sure. They’re going to have to battle a little bit (for playing time), and we’ll see how they respond.”
Manzato took a brief step towards achieving that goal when he appeared in an American Hockey League game earlier this season for Albany, which is Carolina’s Triple-A affiliate. He made 38 saves for the River Rats in a 5-3 loss to the Providence Bruins on Dec. 2. Nine days later, he was shipped back to Las Vegas.
“It was good,” Manzato said of his brief AHL stint. “When I came to North America, my goal was to play maybe a little bit higher than the (ECHL), but sometimes it happens like that. But it was a very good experience to play in the American League. I hope I can play more games up there as soon as possible.”
As long as he continues to win -- which has been the norm for Las Vegas this season -- it may not be too long before Manzato receives another chance in the AHL. Gulutzan believes the Wranglers’ success could speed along the process, but the work ethic must continue to be there if Manzato hopes to climb the professional ladder.
“I think it helps confidence-wise,” Gulutzan said. “Development-wise, it’s kind of up to him every day, to make sure that he’s pushing and trying to become a better player every day. This is a kid who could play in Switzerland for probably 10 times what he’s playing for here. But he wants to play here and take a shot at playing in the NHL.”
It certainly will be interesting to see how far the Wranglers can go in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Should Manzato be able to carry Las Vegas a long way, one would be under the impression that he would receive the same shot that the Iowa Stars gave Steve Silverthorn after the latter guided the Idaho Steelheads to the championship in 2007.
“That’s the big measuring stick for anyone,” Gulutzan said. “Success in the playoffs is kind of the benchmark, or what everyone looks at. Whatever level you’re at, if you have success in the playoffs, it can certainly buy you an opportunity at the upper levels.”
The Hurricanes certainly seemed committed to Manzato’s development. Gulutzan said he has been in consistent contact with recent Hall of Fame inductee Ron Francis, who is Carolina’s Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Development.
“Ron Francis is the guy I talk to, which is obviously a little bit of a treat,” Gulutzan said. “What a class professional guy. I’ve probably talked to Ron Francis 10 times since Daniel Manzato’s been here, keeping track of his progress and how he’s doing. To be honest with you, that’s really unheard of. I’ve never had that kind of contact with anybody. It’s a credit to Ron Francis. There must be some reason why they’re keeping such good tabs on him.”
Brian Compton can be e-mailed at: email@example.com.