London, ONTARIO (LGS) — Last hockey season was one that Mark Mancari will remember for the rest of his life.
It was during that season that the Buffalo Sabres' prospect set career highs in goals (23), assists (34) and points (57) while appearing in 64 AHL contests with the Rochester Americans. The 6-foot-4 winger put up his solid numbers despite playing a number of those games as a defenseman.
In addition to his success in the minors, the versatile London-native also played in his first three NHL contests with the Sabres, scoring one assist in Buffalo's 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 3rd at the Air Canada Centre.
It was that experience of playing in the world's best hockey league that has made Mancari want to work even harder for the upcoming season.
"It was a great experience, it was a dream come true." Mancari told LetsGoSabres.com in an interview from his hometown of London, Ontario. "It changed my work ethic as I learned you have to be a lot quicker (for the NHL), and I need to use my size a lot more."
Size was never an issue for the hulking 224-pound winger; however, players need speed and quickness to succeed in the new-NHL.
"I have worked to keep my weight down and add muscle this off-season," said Mancari, who turned 22 on July 11th. "I've also worked with a power skating coach to improve my skating. I have definitely took what I learned in the NHL and worked on it this summer."
Last season began with many Rochester fans and media members questioning the moves of the minor league team's parent clubs — the Sabres and the Florida Panthers. Most experts felt that the Red White and Blue were supplied with a team that was too young and too inexperienced. Many believed Rochester was destined to miss the playoffs for their second consecutive year.
Instead the Amerks would start off on fire just like the Sabres by winning their first seven games of the season. Randy Cunneyworth's squad carried that momentum throughout the season while building one of the best records in the AHL and earning home-ice advantage for the first round of the 2007 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.
That first round series pitted the Amerks against the Hamilton Bulldogs who would go on to win the series in six hard fought games on their way to the 2007 Calder Cup Championship.
"That loss stayed with me for a long time. It was my first playoff experience in the AHL and we played them well," Mancari recalled. "We had confidence in our team and I thought we could have pulled by them in the end. It was disappointing."
But the subsequent success of the Bulldogs made the loss a little bit easier to take.
"It makes it easier when you look at the big picture," Mancari added. "They had a great team and they got hot at the right time, you can't take that away from them. It should help us heal a little quicker this off-season knowing that we lost to the best."
During his hockey career, Mancari has had the privilege of playing for two phenomenal and well-respected coaches: Brian Kilrea and Randy Cunneyworth. Mancari played under Kilrea while with the Ottawa 67's in the OHL.
"They are two different coaches, Killer is a lot different. I played for him at a different age and in a different atmosphere. He helped me get to this level," stated Mancari.
"Cunney has helped me improve my game and take it to the next level. I'm really happy he's coming back. I've played for him for two years now and he will do anything to win. He is great at developing players and it's great for the organization and all of the players that he'll be back."
Mancari was quick to highlight what makes Cunneyworth a great coach.
"He's a team player and as a former player he knows how players think. He's great at knowing how to keep things loose and take stress off players. He's a friend and he will basically do anything to help his players out."
There was much speculation as to whether or not coach Cunneyworth would return to Rochester for the upcoming season and you can count Mancari among those who are surprised he will be back.
"I talked to him a few times this summer and he wouldn't talk about the NHL," Mancari said about the Amerks' coach who was up for at least one assistant coaching position in the NHL. "I'm quite surprised he is returning."
Mancari has not written out a list of goals for the upcoming season but don't think he doesn't have any.
"Obviously I want to produce more this year, I always want to have a better season than I did the year before," the winger stated. "But I really want to be more of a leader on this year's team. The scary thing is that Clarke (MacArthur) and I are the old guys now and we both just finished our second year (at the professional level)."
As was the case with the year before, both the Florida Panthers and Sabres' have failed to sign any veteran players to provide leadership for their developing players in Rochester.
"Buffalo chooses to do what they do, being it either in Rochester or Buffalo," Mancari stated but not wanting to ruffle any feathers.
"The summer is still going on and while I'm surprised (at the lack of signings) I believe that Buffalo is going to have a great team, as will Florida."
From the determination in his voice, Mancari will try to fill that leadership void this season in Rochester. The Sabres' seventh round selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft has come a long way already in realizing his hockey dreams but he's not done just yet.
Quick Hits with Mark Mancari
- TV Show: CSI: Miami
- Musical Group: Nickleback or Staind
- Movie: Shawshank Redemption
- Pregame Meal: Pasta, chicken, ice cream
- Off-Day Meal: Steak
- Sport to Watch besides Hockey: Golf or Soccer
"I'm really not into the whole Beckhammania, not until he starts playing at least."
- Sport to Play besides Hockey: Golf or Soccer
"I'd love to play golf or soccer. I play golf about 2 to 3 times a week and I'm between an 8-to-12 handicap. Maybe the senior tour will call me after I retire from hockey!"
- Rink to Play In: Air Canada Centre
"It's where I've played most of my NHL games and got my first point."
- Biggest Rivalry Game You've Played In: Memorial Cup against London
"I'm from London, the series was in London, and I played against some current teammates (Dylan Hunter, Drew Larmen, Adam Dennis). They're pretty good about it though, and don't rub it in (that the Knights won the Cup)."
- Best Road City:
"In the AHL I'd have to say either Houston or San Antonio"