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Training Camp Day 15: Maz Earns His Spot

Goaltender Marek Mazanec Will Start the Season with the Preds as Pekka Rinne's Backup

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten /

Marek Mazanec isn't the superstitious type.

He doesn't pay attention to whether or not he puts his right or left leg pad on first. It doesn't matter if he has the same snack every day. Lucky pair of socks? Nope.

He will, however, add a smiley face to his autograph if he has the time.

Suffice to say the Nashville Predators goaltender isn't like most who play his position. Or any position, for that matter. But that's what helped earn him a spot to serve as Pekka Rinne's backup netminder to begin the 2016-17 season.

With goaltender Juuse Saros being assigned to Milwaukee on Tuesday, Mazanec found himself to be just one of two puck stoppers on the active roster. It's a role he's been working toward for a number of years, since he was selected by the Preds in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL Draft.

"It feels awesome," Mazanec said of starting off in Nashville. "I'm super excited about this opportunity, and I'm really looking forward to the season."

He's had experience at the NHL level before, most notably in 2013-14 when he appeared in 25 games for the Preds, which included a 5-4-1 record with two shutouts in November of 2013, good enough to earn him NHL Rookie of the Month honors.

The 25-year-old from Pisek, Czech Republic, spent most of the past three seasons with Nashville's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, splitting time last season with Saros. Mazanec posted a 19-15-5 record in the previous campaign to go along with four shutouts.

But it's that NHL experience, coupled with his preseason play, which was enough to earn him the seat next to Rinne in the locker room.

"Both Mazanec and Saros played really well in the preseason - it was a tough decision, but I think Maz has done the job in here in the exhibition games," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "He looks good in the practice time he's gotten, and right now, this is the guy that's part of our team. Both guys played well, and we wanted the guy with a little bit more experience in our organization."

For Rinne, the chance to build a relationship with Mazanec as goaltending partners is ideal - a young netminder who Rinne can mentor, and who will also keep things light.

"I'm excited for both of us," Rinne said. "I've always had great partners here in Nashville, so I'm excited to start working with Maz. He's a great young goalie, and he has a great personality. Guys like him, and he's a funny guy, always in a good mood, so I'm looking forward working with him.

"He's low key, he likes humor, likes jokes, always in a good mood, but really laid back. I think he has the right personality to be a good team guy."

Mazanec is equally thrilled to be Rinne's teammate and reap all the benefits that come with collaborating alongside one of the game's top netminders.

"To work with one of the best goalies in the world, it's awesome," Mazanec said. "I want to watch him and learn some stuff from him, like how he handles the puck in tough situations during the game and how he carries himself."

Defenseman Anthony Bitetto knows Mazanec better than most in the Preds room, having played with him as a member of the Admirals. Bitetto is confident in the choice, not only for his ability on the ice, but his mentality off of it.

"Maz is probably one of the most athletic goalies I've ever seen," Bitetto said. "I don't think it's easy to be a backup goalie in this League at all; you never know when you're going to be called on, and I think he's a guy that will be ready when we need him to play.

"Off the ice, he's a great guy, a great teammate for sure. He's definitely going to be a guy that supports you and supports the team when he's not even playing, so those are good things to have and attributes to have as a backup goalie."

On his new mask design, Mazanec has an image of his daughter, Nella. That's about the only thing that matters to him. Not what he has for a pregame meal or the time on the clock before he heads to the tunnel.

Besides, it's gotten him to this point. And that's not a bad spot.

"We have confidence that we can put him into certain situations and have good results," Laviolette said. "He's played really well in the games that he's been given, and he has had some experience in the National Hockey League. It's his opportunity and he's ready for this."

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