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Sogaard set to build on early success in 2021-22

October 6, 2021

“Why didn’t you play basketball?”

It’s fair question to ask towering Belleville Senators netminder Mads Sogaard, who certainly stands out at 6’7’’ and 205 pounds. But the 20-year-old from Denmark says he’s getting a bit tired of the joke, as he starts to make an impression around the Senators organization, for reasons other than his height.

“The Great Dane” was drafted by Ottawa in the 2nd round (37th overall) in 2019 and burst onto the North American professional scene with the Belleville Senators in 2021. He racked up seven straight wins to start his career and stopped a total of 189 shots over those appearances, helping the Belleville Sens surge to a franchise-record eight-game winning streak.

That early AHL success followed a two-year career with the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers and 16 games playing professionally in his homeland (his goals against average never dipped below .900 during either of those stints) before the joining Belleville in the middle of the pandemic-shortened season.

“I think just coming here and putting in a good game plan for myself, I worked a lot with Justin Peters on simplifying my game a bit. I think that helped me a lot to not worry about anything but my own game, and the things I can control,” Sogaard said, when asked about the keys to his quick success. “I think focusing on that and making sure I did my part helped to get results and obviously, as a team, we were able to go on a pretty good streak at the end there.”

He added that the experience of playing under pandemic-related circumstances last year changed his perspective and helped his mindset in the crease.

“I think you find out how much you actually love the game. There are no fans to give you the emotion and the energy on some nights, you are kind of on your own out there with your teammates and the normal surroundings aren’t there. It’s just hockey.”

But it’s not just early success at the professional level that has brought Sogaard’s name to the forefront. He has also represented his country at numerous international events, including the World Junior Championship and most recently, the Olympic qualifying tournament. While he didn’t see much ice time, he was part of the team that helped Denmark qualify for its first Olympic games.

“It’s honestly hard to describe and I don’t think I truly understand how big it is,” said Sogaard of the monumental accomplishment for the nation of just 6,000 hockey players. He says he was more excited for his older teammates, who were likely running out of chances to represent their country at the Olympics.

“Looking at the veteran guys like Frans Nielsen, Mikkel Bodker, Peter Regin and others, the Olympics don’t happen every year and it was probably one of the last chances for them to qualify. Denmark has never qualified, even though we’ve had some good teams in the past and not been able to pull through. We were all super excited seeing those guys and how much it meant to them.”

And as much as the accomplishment means to the players on the team, Sogaard says when the Winter Games roll around in February, the impact will be felt across that country.

“I think for Danish hockey it’s going to be great. We’re a small country and need new players all the time, so I think this is going to help a lot. We hosted the world championship a couple years ago and a lot of new hockey fans were made, and a lot of younger kids got into hockey as well. I think it could be a steppingstone for Danish hockey.”

As of the start of Belleville Sens Training Camp, Sogaard was waiting to hear if he’d be named to the Olympic team but was hopeful to have his name called.

Belleville Senators goaltender Mads Sogaard, on Day 2 of Training Camp, on October 5, 2021. (Photo: David Foot / Belleville Senators)
Belleville Senators goaltender Mads Sogaard, on Day 2 of Training Camp, on October 5, 2021. (Photo: David Foot / Belleville Senators)

Sogaard isn’t the first Danish goaltender to play for a Belleville-based franchise. Sabastian Dahm, His goaltending partner on the Olympic qualifying team, played 25 games for the Ontario Hockey League Belleville Bulls in 2005. Sogaard says they’ve already had some discussions about “The Friendly City”.

“He was asking where I was going to end up this season and I told him I would be playing in Belleville. I was kind of surprised when he told me he had played here, but he had nothing but good things to say about this place. It’s cool to hear from a guy that actually played here and to learn from a veteran guy as well.”

He says from those stories and what he’s seen in his short time in the city so far, Belleville seems like a perfect fit for many of the players on this season’s roster.

“All of us are really excited to be here in Belleville this year, to not be in Ottawa and to play in front of fans. I really like it here; it reminds me a lot of Medicine Hat where I played junior, and I had two of the best years of my life in that city. It’s really cool to be settling in here and I’m excited to continue what we started last year. There are a lot of differences between pro and junior, but we’re a young team and we need the support from the fans. I think they’ll enjoy watching us.”

On a personal level, Sogaard’s sights are also set on the Calder Cup Playoffs, along with a potential NHL call-up, should he get that opportunity.

“I think I want to just keep building on my game. I made some good progress last year with Belleville and I’m excited to be back for a normal season, and just to contribute and help the team win. Troy (Mann) has talked about playoffs being the goal this year, but the ultimate goal is obviously to play in the NHL and I’m working as hard as I can to maybe get a chance to play there. The biggest focus is on the day-by-day, working as hard as you can in practice and the rest will take care of itself.”

Belleville’s 2021-22 training camp continues at CAA Arena through October 14, ahead of the Senators first game of the season on October 15 in Laval. Belleville returns home the following night for the home opener presented by CAA South Central Ontario, also against Laval.

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