Mancari un-Locke's game

JIM CRESSMAN, Free Press Sports Reporter

, Last Updated: 12:28 PM ET

OTTAWA -- Every so often Mark Mancari laces up an old pair of skates and goes for a spin on the Rideau Canal Skateway. Measuring 7.8 kilometres in length, it's touted as the world's longest skating rink.

The ice is bumpy and it can prove tough sledding, but Mancari says it's a good reminder of the hard work he's had to put into his OHL career.

Three goals his rookie year with the Ottawa 67's, eight the next. Then, 29 last season as he played on one of the most-productive junior lines, centred by two-time scoring champion and two-time league MVP Corey Locke.

Mancari finished the regular season with 65 points and collected another five goals in seven playoff games.

But this season the 19-year-old Londoner is on his own, to a certain extent, as Locke is in the American league.

Mancari is tied for the 67's lead in goals with 21 and is fourth in team points with 38, but those numbers are not what he was expecting.

"Obviously it's an adjustment not having Corey Locke in the middle, but I'm back on pace and hopefully I can keep it going," Mancari said yesterday as the 67's prepared for today's game against the London Knights.

"When you play with a guy who had 151 points the year before, if your stick is on the ice, he's going to get the puck to you."

The 67's are also learning to adjust to life without Locke. They're sixth in the Eastern Conference at 21-17-5-1.

Mancari, a seventh-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2004 NHL draft, strikes an imposing figure on the ice at six-foot-three and 225 pounds.

Coach Brian Kilrea said if there's one knock on Mancari, it's he needs to use his size on a consistent basis.

"You get higher marks (from the pros)," Kilrea said. "He has pro potential but . . . there's some nights he's physical, but not every night. Some nights he can be dominant and other nights he's not."

But Kilrea, who drafted Mancari in the second round in 2001, is pleased with his overall progress.

"Sure, Corey brought the talent out in Mark, but just because you play with a guy, that doesn't mean you're going to score," Kilrea said.

"What Mark did was to prove to himself and to us that he can play.

"But we don't have a Corey Locke-type player (this season) that would get him the puck as much, so he's not getting as many shots or chances, so therefore his totals are down.

"But he's continued to work and now he's a better penalty killer and he's better defensively. He works hard and he's reliable enough that you can play him in the last minute."

Kilrea said another benefit of playing with Locke was that Mancari learned to play in his own end.

"If you got Corey the puck from his own end and followed the play up, he'd find you. So you had to learn to play your own end and because Mark did, now we can use him as a penalty killer."

Mancari said today is a homecoming for him, except home is coming to him.

"It's fun and scary at the same time," he said of playing the 39-4-2-0 Knights, who on Friday clinched a playoff spot.

It's believed to be the fastest that's been done in major junior hockey.

"You see Branks (trainer Don Brankley) and all the guys. I remember going to the rink when I was seven and my brother (David) was even drafted by London.

"We boarded Chris Zanutto and Dennis Purdy. It's strange but it's kind of like family because you grew up in London. You see all the guys in the summer and you skate with them. I played with Dylan (Hunter) growing up and knowing Dale (Hunter) . . . it's a lot of fun."

Mancari said the 67's respect the Knights but can't be intimidated by them.

"They've proved to be the No. 1 team in the league and they've earned that with beating the (unbeaten) record.

"Looking down their roster and seeing the names they have is unbelievable (but) you can't let that get to you.

"We have a motto in our room and that's 'Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work' and that's something we have.

"We have a lot of guys who work hard and do their jobs well and that's what we're going to have to do (today), is go in and win all the little battles."

Mancari has been winning his.


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