After 43 games, it’s hard to call a freshman a freshman, especially when he’s the game-winning goalie for a national champion, and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
In two games, Denver goaltender Peter Mannino made 85 saves on 88 shots in a performance that earned him 2005 Frozen Four MOP honors and made him the first freshman so named since Minnesota’s Thomas Vanek in 2003, which was also the last time a men’s Division I team scored back-to-back national championships.
Yet in winning the 2005 national title, the “rookie” belied any freshman jitters not only with his on-ice play, but also with his post-game prater, during which he sounded like a seasoned pro.
“I have to credit my team. They allowed me to see the puck and when there were rebounds, they cleared them right away. We worked well together. Things just clicked. They played great in front of me. I just wanted to give us a chance, keep them [UND] off the board as much as possible, and things worked out well.”
Perhaps Mannino felt like the grizzled veteran today, after his third consecutive win in the NCAA Tournament. After splitting time fairly evenly in net this season with sophomore Glenn Fisher, Mannino got the start against Colorado College for Thursday’s semifinal game — in regular rotation, that start would have been Fisher’s — because of his success against the Tigers late in the regular season and in the WCHA Final Five title game.
Clearly, the Pioneers were confident with the young Mannino in net.
“Going into the game, I knew Peter had our back,” said Denver junior Gabe Gauthier after Thursday’s 6-2 win. “Just the preparation he has and the mentality he has before the game, it’s tremendous.”
That preparation led to just three goals allowed, all power-play tallies, and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude that was evident any time a North Dakota player came a little too close for Mannino’s liking. After several saves tonight, Mannino rose with his stick or glove ready to push away one of the aggressive Sioux.
“Those guys were driving to the net a little bit after the play,” said Mannino. “I just didn’t want anything happening, didn’t want my team retaliating or anything like that, so I just wanted to clear the front, make sure the ref knew that they’re getting a little close — simple as that. Just wanted things to be clean.”
That control also translated into some highlight-reel saves, including the first-period glove pick of Sioux Erik Fabian’s point-blank shot from the right of the cage just after the midway point in the first period, a save so close to being inside the cage and across the line, that the outcome of the inevitable review was by no means certain.
But even that didn’t rattle Mannino.
“Personally, I didn’t think it went in. I did think it was very close, and I thought it should have been reviewed. It was just a quick reaction. They shot it high and I went up and grabbed. It should have been reviewed, and I’m just glad of the outcome.”
Mannino was one of five freshmen who played tonight for Denver, four of whom started the game. Freshmen forwards Paul Stastny and Ryan Dingle were out there with senior Luke Fulghum as the starting line, and freshman defender Andrew Thomas was paired with junior Brett Skinner to start tonight.
“This freshman class that Steve Miller and Seth Appert, our assistant coaches, put together a few years ago, in my mind, [is] the best freshman class to contribute as a freshman class ever in our 11 years at Denver, and perhaps maybe the most effective freshman class that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” said DU head coach George Gwozdecky.
The four freshmen starters, said Gwozdecky, “should tell you how highly we as a coaching staff think of our freshmen and what we’re willing to put them in positions for in order to be able to show people what they can do.
“They have strength, they have grit, they have talent, courage.”
But not, apparently, jitters.
“It’s more exciting, or excitement,” said Mannino. “To be in this situation in the Frozen Four is just a thrill for all the freshmen. We just want to take it in stride and give as much impact to the team as we could. I think we enjoyed the whole season playing with them.
“You dream about this your whole life. You just want to play in big games like this. To be here is a dream come true, and I wanted to play as well as I could for the team.”