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Troy Mann


Troy Talks: COVID-19 reset, getting back to action and NHL taxi squads

December 28, 2021

The Belleville Senators season came to a screeching halt last week, just as the team seemed to be hitting its stride. After picking up a pair of wins to start what was supposed to be a four game road trip, a handful of positive COVID-19 cases forced the postponement of the final two games of that trip, plus four more games leading up to this Thursday, when the Sens are set to hit the ice again against the Toronto Marlies. We spoke to Senators Head Coach Troy Mann about dealing with the shortened trip, the ensuing 10-day COVID protocol shutdown and getting back to action, in this week’s edition of Troy Talks.

It seems like the team was starting to get on the right track to kick off the road trip, did you find that to be the case and was it frustrating to have to shut down?

“Our goal was to, over the final six games before the Christmas break, to go 4-2 and get us back to the .500 mark, which we thought was a good goal under the circumstances. Unfortunately, we only played two games, but we won both and that put us where we wanted to be heading into the break. Even though we’ve now had two weeks off, it was nice to get those four points in the bank. From a coaching perspective, the disappointing thing was that we were just getting our team together. When you look at the lineup for that game in Bridgeport, you could see some type of continuity and you’re finally starting to see some line combos you might have thought of back in October, that just weren’t possible. So, to get the trip off that well and we were just hoping to put a string of wins together, that was disappointing.”

What can you say about how the team responded to the trip being halted and did it give you any flashbacks from March 2020 when the season was shut down due to COVID-19?

 “Obviously we all follow the news and knew this variant was spreading like rapid fire and once the first three guys went down, we figured it was going to come pretty hard and that’s what happened. The good news is that this variant seems to be weaker than the first two and guys have come out very well. The majority of our team has tested positive now, but on the plus-side symptoms were either minimal, or nonexistent and the guys who did have symptoms had basically a 24-to-48-hour turnaround. The unfortunate part is that everybody was isolating for 10 days and some guys weren’t able to make it home for Christmas, or be with their families, which is tough this time of year. As a positive though, guys have had plenty of rest and now it’s just a matter of knocking off the rust and getting back to work.”

How challenging was it to get through the isolation period, especially for those personnel who had to be alone? 

“You look at the last 21 months and there hasn’t been a whole lot going on as far as living a normal life, so it was business as usual for me, just staying home and getting in some dog walks and trying to stay active. But for some of the guys who are single or have girlfriends, when they test positive, it’s more difficult for them. Being at home alone, or in a hotel room for a 10 day period can certainly have some mental fatigue as part of it and I think that’s even higher because we’ve been dealing with this for 21 months and at the end of the day, you just want it to be over.”

How much of a concern was the loss of fitness during the time away from the rink, and what was the first practice back like on Tuesday? 

“Our Strength and Conditioning Coach Mitch Freeburn did a really nice job. He would post daily workouts on our team communication app that guys could do at home. We also delivered weights from the locker room to some guys who wanted or needed some small equipment, just so they’re doing something daily. I think Christmas Day was probably the only day he didn’t send something out. Under the circumstances I thought the practice was pretty good. We backed off a few drills because after 30 minutes you could tell the wind wasn’t really there, but the guys were out there for about 42 minutes to just kind of get their legs back and be better for it tomorrow.”

As far as the lineup, how close to healthy will you be come Thursday vs Toronto?

“We’ve got two more guys coming out of isolation on Wednesday, with Jack Dougherty and Mads Sogaard, so I think we should be at full strength by Friday. Colby Williams tested positive a bit later then everyone else and will get out on the 30th. Goloubef was supposed to go to the Spengler Cup and tested positive in Syracuse, then that tournament got cancelled anyways, so he’ll be out on the 31st. The ironic thing is that based on the number of positives we had, it was more advantageous to test positive early, because the first group of guys won’t miss any games or practices.”

How do you try to get everyone back up to speed after the layoff, with a game just a couple days away? 

“Tuesday we just tried to get the hands and feet back and Wednesday we should have a full practice to run, but at the same time, there’s only so much you can cover in one day. So, we’ll try to get the pace up and work on some systems, power play and penalty kill. The good news is Toronto is in the same boat as us, they’ll likely lose some guys and have already lost some to the taxi squad, which we haven’t yet. I’m not sure how good the quality of hockey will be on Thursday night, but hopefully we can come together. I told the guys this morning it’s an important stretch  with Toronto just above us in the standings, we want to gain some ground on them over the next week.”

Belleville hasn’t been affected by the NHL Taxi Squad announcement just yet, but how are you feeling about that returning? 

“We dealt with it last year and it’s not ideal to be losing some of your top players. The discussion with Ottawa has been minimal so far because they’re trying to get their situation in order in terms of when they’re starting to play games, but I suspect by the time the weekend rolls around we’ll have more of an idea of what their plans are. They’re allowed up to six players and last season when they were playing at home they took less than that, on the road they took more players, so that can be fluid as well. From my perspective we’re just going to have a good practice Wednesday, go into Thursday’s game and then make the proper adjustments as needed.”