This was an unusual season for the Milwaukee Admirals in the goaltending department. The 2016-17 season was the first time that the Admirals rolled out and played more than two goaltenders over the course of a campaign since the 2013-14 season. That year the Admirals had five different goaltenders factor in while this season there were four: Juuse Saros, Marek Mazanec, Jonas Gunnarsson, and Mark Visentin.
Not only did the Admirals roll out those four goaltenders but everyone not named Visentin earned a shutout. It was the first time the Admirals saw shutouts from three different goaltenders in a single season since the 2006-07 season when Pekka Rinne, Karl Goehring, and Scott Reid accomplished the feat. Those three earned a combined 5 shutouts that season. Saros, Mazanec, and Gunnarsson managed combine for the exact same number of shutouts.
And, of course, there was the start to the season and how the actual goaltending narrative played out that was also unusual. Mazanec won the back-up role to Rinne with the Nashville Predators in the NHL. This seemed to be a well earned promotion for the 25-year old Czech native who had spent three-years in the organization working towards that opportunity. Saros looked set to be “the man” in Milwaukee and carrying a full work load in the AHL. That all looked like it made sense. But that didn’t stay that way all that long. Saros was outrageously good for the Admirals in the AHL and was effectively sweeping all major goaltending categories atop the AHL statistical sheets. Meanwhile, Mazanec wasn’t being afforded much time in net to start the season and wasn’t very convincing when he did get his chance to shine. This started an ad nauseum process of “Mazanec down, Saros up” that continued until mid-December when Saros was cementing himself as Rinne’s back-up. Mazanec was then told to clear out his Nashville apartment and find a place in Milwaukee – which he did during the All-Star break.
As frustrating as this season could have been for Mazanec he never once displayed an negativity surrounding what had happened. All that he did was come back to the city of Milwaukee, pop on his Admirals sweater, and went to work. These last two seasons with the Admirals have been some of his best and consistent work and he shouldered the load for the Admirals over the course of this season. Mazanec is the no-doubt choice for Admirals Roundtable’s Goalie of the Year for the 2016-17 Season.
The most impressive aspect of Mazanec’s run with the Admirals this past season was seeing him operate as the team’s workhorse in net. The date you can really slam down as when Mazanec made the committed stay into the Admirals picture was 12/16/16 at the start of the team’s Texas road trip. There were still 53 games remaining in the Admirals 2016-17 season at that point. Mazanec would play in 42 of those remaining games.
At season’s end Mazanec would finish with a solid career best for wins in an AHL season by earning 27 wins from 47 appearances. His previous best came last season when he managed to win 19 games from 39 appearances while he and Saros split duties for the Admirals. And with the increased work load Mazanec nearly matched or bested previous career bests in save percentage and shutouts over the course of an AHL season.
It isn’t clear what happens next for the Czech goaltender who turns 26-years old this July. But what he certainly didn’t do was burn any bridges or make it difficult for other NHL or AHL teams to consider bringing him in if the next chapter of Mazanec’s career is not back with the Predators organization. This season could have been more. This season could have been a nightmare. In the end I don’t feel it’s right to say that it was either. But what Mazanec did was to make the most of what he could the moment he knew he was an Admiral once again. That lends itself well for the road ahead no matter where that road leads.
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