Vegas goalie tries to fulfill potential

When the Carolina Hurricanes selected Wranglers goalie Daniel Manzato in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Draft, they did so on the glowing recommendation of esteemed Anaheim Ducks goalie coach Francois Allaire.

After watching him play at a summer camp, Allaire said Manzato, a 6-foot Swiss netminder, was as good as four-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Roy was at his age.

Manzato, who turned 24 on Jan. 17, has yet to live up to that lofty praise, but he’s working hard to realize his potential.

“My dream is to play in the NHL, and I will try to do my best to one day play in the NHL,” the affable Manzato said in a thick Swiss accent. “I’m still young, I can improve and I will try to stay here in North America.”

Manzato, who got the win for the National Conference in Wednesday’s ECHL All-Star Game, is 13-4-3 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in his first professional season in North America after playing the past four years in the Swiss-A league.

He had expected to play in the American Hockey League this season, but after attending training camp with Carolina and the AHL’s Albany River Rats, Manzato was sent to the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers, where he went 2-0-0 before getting reassigned to Las Vegas on Nov. 10 in a contract crunch.

“When you play in the ECHL, the NHL is really far away, but things can happen so fast,” he said. “With injuries, you could get called up to the (AHL). Everything can be real quick, you never know.”

Manzato, who started out 9-0-0 for Las Vegas and 11-0-0 overall, was inspired by an article he recently read that listed several stellar NHL goalies who had previously played in the ECHL, including NHL All-Star Manny Legace of the St. Louis Blues, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Olaf Kolzig of the Washington Capitals.

“When I see that, I think I have a chance,” he said. “If I play well in the ECHL, I can have a chance to one day play in the NHL. I will work hard.

“When I came here, my goal was to be in the (AHL), but I can improve my game in the ECHL, too. Maybe it’s better to play more games in the ECHL than to be a backup and play one or two games in the (AHL).”

Manzato, who hasn’t started since a 4-3 loss at Bakersfield on Jan. 18, has gone 2-4-3 since his 11-0-0 start, but he’s planning to raise his game a notch for the rest of the season.

“I want to have a really good second part of the season,” he said. “Hopefully I will improve my game and move it up another step.”

Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan had nothing but praise for Manzato, who has made a smooth transition to the smaller ice rinks of North America.

“He’s adjusted to the ice surfaces, he’s made some big strides here and he’s comfortable right now,” Gulutzan said. “He’s got great rebound control, and he plays pretty big. He’s real competitive, and he works very, very hard.”

Gulutzan said Manzato has what it takes to make it to the NHL.

“Certainly Carolina thinks he’s a prospect and thinks he has that potential,” he said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 383-0354.

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