WILKES-BARRE — On Saturday afternoon, as the first day of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins training camp came to an end, head coach John Hynes spoke about the importance of having depth at the goaltender position.
“The chain effect is more dramatic than any other position,” he said.
Later in the day, Hynes’ words would ring true as Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun left the practice ice and underwent a procedure to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis. Vokoun is out indefinitely, leaving Pittsburgh with Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff, last year’s starter with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Adding to the ripple effect is goaltender Peter Mannino’s status. He is still considered day-to-day with an injury. And just like that, only two days into Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s training camp, the goaltending position could undergo some major changes.
“Right now it’s a two-pronged effect because Mannino is day-to-day and, as of right now, Zatkoff is going to get a good opportunity to become the number two in Pittsburgh with Vokoun out,” Hynes said. “We, as an organization, have two goalies out.”
But there’s more. Hynes added that the team may look at bringing a third goaltender to go along with veteran Andy Chiodo and rookie Eric Hartzell. With a pair of preseason games coming up this week, Hynes said things are going to pick up and it would be nice to have a third goaltender to help carry the load in practice.
“It seems fine now, but there may be an influx of players coming down Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and then we get into games,” he said.
With Vokoun and Mannino both sidelined, the opportunities for Chiodo and Hartzell undoubtedly improve.
Chiodo, 30, is entering his 11th professional season and his second stint with the Penguins. He was the starter in net when the Penguins went to the Calder Cup Final in 2004 and spent the last three seasons in Europe.
Hartzell, 24, was signed by the Penguins over the summer after completing four seasons of college hockey. Earlier this year, he was named the USA Hockey College Player of the Year after leading Quinnipiac to the Frozen Four.
As of now, both players represent Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s goaltending tandem, with Chiodo being the seasoned veteran and Hartzell the top prospect.
But that could change with another injury or someone getting healthy again.
“It’s difficult when you have injuries because there’s only two (goaltenders) per team,” Hynes said. “It really affects the depth in your organization and it’s a rapid, trickle effect more than any other positions.”
Chiodo and Hartzell are both ready for any extra opportunities that may come their way.
“You don’t want anyone to go through what Vokoun is going through,” Chiodo said. “The main thing, in professional hockey, is things happen every day. All we can do is be prepared. Over my years, I’ve seen so many situations where guys have injuries and as a player you just try to be prepared every day.”
Hartzell is taking a similar approach.
“Wherever I am is where my focus is. Right now, my mind is in Wilkes-Barre until otherwise,” he said. “But this is why practice is so important. It’s your opportunity to get better every day and if I’m called upon, I’ll be ready to go.”
- Hynes said he may hold an intra-squad practice today as players continue to battle for a spot in the organization. With the first exhibition game coming up on Wednesday in Rochester, Hynes said the expected influx of players from Pittsburgh will mean that not everyone will get penciled in for a preseason game. That’s why practices and scrimmages are important, he said.
“When you’re in a training camp setting, you’re going against guys you are going to play with. But you’re also fighting for a spot and to make a name for yourself,” Hynes said. “Not everyone is guaranteed a game, and when it gets to competitive situations in practice or a scrimmage, that may be their only opportunity.”
- Sunday’s practice featured plenty of intensity, highlighted by Clark Seymour and Chaz Johnson exchanging big hits during two-on-two drills. Johnson is a nine-year pro known for his physical play, and Hynes was happy to see him establish the intensity during practice.
“Anytime a guy does that in the drills or a practice, it always raises the competitive level,” Hynes said. “You have to be ready to go. Anytime you have guys practice at that intensity level, it always raises everyone else’s game.”
- Hartzell spent some time with Pittsburgh as their third goaltender during the postseason and also was with the big club for the start of this year’s training camp. Although he has yet to play a professional game, Hartzell said the experience with Pittsburgh helped prepare him for the big day.
“Those guys are just so good up there and it really helped my game. You have to be patient and not overreact against them,” he said. “They’re just so good at what they do that it helps you read plays and stay patient. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.”
- Despite the uncertainty surrounding the goaltender position throughout the organization, Hynes said Mannino won’t be rushed back. “Even though it seems like there’s a good opportunity, it’s more important for him to be ready for the regular season,” Hynes said.