At 9:30 on Sunday morning, Islanders netminder Peter Mannino received the call of his life. It was Head Coach Scott Gordon. At first, Mannino thought it was simply a wake-up call from his coach. Instead, it was a call informing him he’d be starting his first NHL game that afternoon against the offensive-minded Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Seven hours later, Mannino completed a 40-save effort to earn First Star of the Game honors in a 4-2 Islanders win.
"It was pretty exciting to get that call," said Mannino. "It was a dream. The first thing I did was call my parents."
Mannino’s parents—Peter and Maria—had already made the four-hour trip from Farmington Hills, Michigan, to Chicago on Saturday night to visit with their son, and perhaps his first NHL start.
By finding out the day of the game, Mannino wasn’t given much opportunity to think too long about his first NHL start. He had played in one NHL earlier in the season, allowing three goals in relief in 13 minutes of a 7-2 loss to Boston on November 28. It wasn’t exactly the NHL debut Mannino envisioned.
"I was immediately disappointed after my first game and wanted to prove I can play at that level," said Mannino. "It was a tough situation being thrown in there. I was pretty nervous and the fans were crazy. Afterwards, I tried to stay as positive as I could and use it in positive way. I just thought to myself, ‘I did get in NHL action.’ I thought if I could get another chance I would be ready. Thankfully, the Islanders gave me another shot. Having played in the NHL already, it definitely benefitted me when I played Chicago. The initial nerves were gone because the idea of playing in the NHL had already sunk in."
Mannino was tested early and often on Sunday—facing 12 shots in the first period, 18 in the second and a total of 42 on the game. Some of the saves he made were from in close and against some of the world’s best. Mannino stopped partial breakaways against NHL All-Star Patrick Kane and Martin Havlat. Former collegiate rival from the University of North Dakota and current Blackhwaks captain Jonathan Toews saw both of his shots turned aside by Mannino, who played for the University of Denver
|Peter Mannino |
"Going in, I knew how lethal their offense was," said Mannino. ‘You try not to focus on individual players. You look for tendencies, but you don’t think about a specific person coming down on you. Once you get a stoppage, then it might sink and you think ‘wow, that was pretty cool being able to stop him.’ You see a replay and see what you just did. I had people calling me today and telling me who I stopped and I didn’t even realize it."
Having made 40 saves, Mannino—more or less—stopped everyone on Chicago at least once, silencing the Chicago crowd for much of the game as the Islanders took the lead in the second period. But even with the crowd against him, Mannino appreciated their presence.
"Being in Chicago was pretty amazing. It was a great environment for my first start," said Mannino. "You feed off that. Hockey fans are great. It’s amazing to hear them even though they’re rooting against you. Ultimately, you hope to keep them as quiet as possible."
With help from his forwards and defensemen, Mannino earned some support in the form of four goals, but it was those supporting him off the ice he really wanted to thank.
"I just finished responding to all of my texts and messages about five minutes ago," said Mannino on Monday afternoon. "This first game was like a thanks for everyone that has helped me along the way. I can’t thank everyone enough for helping me on my journey."