But similar to their counterpart in Ottawa, the slow start was a blip on the radar. Toss away their first 10 games, the “BSens” record is 12-7-1 – which positions them in third place in the AHL’s Canadian Division with five games remaining.
With players such as Erik Brannstrom, Matthew Peca, Logan Shaw, not to mention goalies Joey Daccord, Filip Gustavsson, Kevin Mandolese being shuttled to and from Ottawa’s taxi squad, the team failed to jell as quickly as head coach Troy Mann wished.
In a Tuesday postgame conversation with Full Press Hockey, Mann was appreciative of getting this season in, especially when it comes to the development of Belleville’s young squad. At least nine potential returnees will be 22-years old or younger, with Ridly Greig and Roby Jarventie being only 19 when next season opens.
“This is why this type of season was really important for us to play. Because of the growth in all of our young players, (Mark) Kastelic, (Cole) Reinhardt and these type of guys have been with us since the start. This is great for their development, great for the organization. And I also think this is real good for the Belleville Senators to ultimately get in these 35 games to prepare them, not only for Sens training camp in September, but ultimately the AHL season next year.”
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While he was a head coach for the Washington Capitals’ AHL Hershey affiliate for four years and an assistant for another four prior seasons, Mann’s role with Belleville is somewhat different due to cultivating younger players rather guiding veteran teams.
The “BSens” head coach enjoys this side of the game, “Absolutely, my time here as coach in Belleville has been real exciting because of the young talent. It’s different for me from my tenure at Hershey where you’re coaching an older team and the expectations are Calder Cup. We certainly reached that. But the amount of young kids that are coachable and being great team players has been phenomenal in these last two years. And this group is no different. I think it’s going to be an important off-season for us to get the right vets for this group in terms of not only leadership, but to allow us to be in the playoff picture next season. When we look at the number of players that will be back, it’s very very young.”
“You start by looking at guys like Kastelic, Reinhardt, (Angus) Crookshank, (Egor) Sokolov, Järventie, (Lassi) Thomson – a young crew, right? (Maxence) Guenette coming and potentially JBD (Jacob Bernard-Docker – a lot of young talent, so it’s important that those guys are the right guys to make sure we’re competitive – in the playoff picture. That’s going be our goal.”
Due to a playing a reduced 35-game campaign with no playoffs, goaltenders have certain felt the brunt of it. For example, Kevin Mandolese has played only seven games since hockey stopped in March 2020. The 20-year old also spent time on the Ottawa’s taxi squad, practicing with a handful of players on a daily basis. Not having an East Coast League affiliate hurt the organization in this vain.
Moving forward, Mann isn’t worried about the state of the future “Sens” goaltending situation, especially since the arrival of the club’s 2019 37th overall Entry Draft selection, Mads Sogaard. The six-foot-seven netminder has earned all four Belleville victories during their current win streak.
One of Daccord or Gustavsson may be claimed in July’s Expansion Draft by the Seattle Kraken.
“There’s a lot of depth in net right now. There’s a lot that can happen over the coming months. For Mandolese, I kind of feel a little bit sorry for him, given the fact he probably hasn’t played as many games as we all would’ve liked – just because of taxi squads and the season it’s been. But now Sogaard has come in and won four straight, and looks like he can be the “real deal.” It’s their job to push (Joey) Daccord, (Filip) Gustavsson, these type of guys next year. I think as a coaching staff, we feel very comfortable with what’s going on in the crease. Obviously, it’s a very important position. In Belleville, we used six goalies both my first and second year. This year we used seven goalies in 30 games. It’s important you have depth at that position. Without good goaltending, you’re not going to go very far in terms in making the playoffs.”