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Troy Talks: Senators rookies set to hit the ice in Buffalo

September 13, 2022

The American Hockey League Season is just over a month away, but work is already beginning for Belleville Sens Head Coach Troy Mann, his staff and some of his players. The Belleville Sens bench boss, his assistant coaches and support staff are headed to Buffalo, New York, this week, where they’ll help to guide 26 Ottawa Senators prospects through a trio of games against teams from other NHL organizations (Boston, Montreal, Buffalo).

We caught up with Mann before he left for Ottawa (and eventually Buffalo) to find out more about the importance of a rookie camps, in the lead-up to both the AHL and National Hockey League regular seasons. Here’s the full conversation, in our first edition of “Troy Talks” for the 2022-23 season.

With Ottawa’s rookie camp coming up, we wanted to remind some of our fans about how heavily involved our staff is in that. What are the roles and responsibilities for you and your staff during the NHL rookie camp?

“In my history of being in the American Hockey League, normally, the AHL staff runs the NHL rookie camp. I’ve been part of a few different scenarios where that’s just a home-and-home series with a team, like when I was in Hershey that was against Philadelphia, but now it seems to be more of the tournament style. That’s always been the case since I’ve been with Ottawa, but COVID-19 kind of put a damper on that. I know, for us, we’re really excited for this new experience in Buffalo, they’re expanding the number of teams and I think it will be a lot of fun. Ultimately, the rookie camp is best served in a tournament set up, so you can see how guys handle themselves in a competitive environment and game action.”

How important are these very early-season competitive games, in terms of player development?

“I think it does a lot of things. It gives management an opportunity to see several different types of players, including guys who are battling for NHL spots, guys that they know will be in Belleville, draft picks that they know are going back to junior, or invites. A guy like Parker Kelly is a prime example of a guy who was an invite but ended up signing an NHL deal. For us as coaches, sure we’re evaluating the whole roster, but at the end of the day we’ve got our eyes on guys who could potentially help us in Belleville and figuring out what their role will be. And from the players perspective, it gives those younger guys a little bit of a leg up on the veterans come training camp time, because they’re going to play two-or-three meaningful games against opposition.

What’s your message to these young prospects at the start of a rookie camp our rookie tournament?

“The message really is the same for all 24 guys. Whether you’re an invite, an NHL contracted player, or a junior guy who’s still unsigned, at the end of the day, you want to take in as much information as you can that will allow you to perform. That means from the first time you step on the ice; you’re going to give it your all. Whether that’s on the ice from a practice perspective, off the ice with the strength coaches, or in video sessions, you need to take in information and be able to produce. Ultimately, you also want to win. Is it life or death? No. But from a coaching perspective, you want to win games and you want your players to put up a good performance.”

How excited are you to see some of these guys that haven’t been around since April and see how much they’ve worked on the things you spoke about in their exit meetings?

“That’s one of the things that’s really cool about the rookie tournament. It allows you to talk to your players in probably a bit more of a relaxed setting, because you’re going to try and spread the ice time around and get everyone minutes, so they can be evaluated. But from the Belleville perspective, you’ve got Angus Crookshank, Viktor Lodin, Ridly Greig (who’s injured and may not play games but is part of the roster), then you’ve got guys like Tyler Boucher or Zach Ostapchuk, who potentially could join us at the end of this upcoming season. We’re excited to see how they’ve all come along.”

Is there anyone you are specifically excited to see in action following their offseason training?

“Angus Crookshank is one, for sure. We anticipated him being a huge part of our team in Belleville last year and he didn’t even get to play a game. We know that he’s chomping at the bit to get to play and I think, for us, it’s going to be really important to get a good look at him. Hopefully he’ll play all three games, even though it’s been about a year since he’s seen game action, but we’ll try to get him in two-of-three at least and if he’s feeling good, I’m sure management will let him play all three.”

Optimism around the Senators organization seems to be at an all-time high, after the moves made over the offseason. What are your thoughts on the work Pierre Dorion and his staff have done this summer?

 “Obviously, the plan was put in place to build a winning team around a core over a certain number of years, and since I’ve been here, they’ve always talked about and have been doing that. It seems like after three years that this was the appropriate time to add to the core and they now have those key guys under long-term contracts and have made some key additions. It should be fun and from the AHL perspective, it maybe keeps some guys here a little bit longer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you look at teams like the Washington Capitals, or Tampa Bay Lightning, they’ve always tried to maybe “overcook” their prospects to some degree. I’m not saying we’re going to have prospects “overcooked”, but let’s face it, if you look at the roster there’s not a lot of wiggle room in Ottawa and you’re going to have to beat someone out of a job or start the season here. Our message in Belleville is never going to change, it’s all about our standards and it’s all about making playoffs here.”

Does that steadiness in the roster benefit the AHL club at all?

 “From a prospect perspective, yes. Typically, you’re going to see greater than 50% turnover in the American Hockey League, between free agency and graduations. But from our perspective, it’s going to be more of a change in the veterans and our team will be very similar to last year in terms of the prospect base. Dillon Heatherington is back, you’ve got Jake Lucchini returning and Rourke Chartier, who are all staples in the organization, but we’ve lost Michael Del Zotto, captain Logan Shaw, Andrew Aggozino is gone, Colby Williams too, that’s a big part of our leadership group that’s gone. Now we need new guys to step up and also the younger guys that are going into their third year, to step up, but from a talent perspective our lineup is pretty solid.”

To zero-in on goaltending, Kevin Mandolese hasn’t played a lot due to injuries recently, what are you looking to see from him in Buffalo?

 “We’re looking for progression from him and Mads Sogaard, who both had different types of seasons, but went through some adversity last year due to injuries and COVID-19. Both guys are going to need to take steps because when you look at goalie tandems in the AHL, it’s usually a young prospect paired with a veteran player. Right now, not to say Antoine Bibeau can’t win a job here in Belleville. Ultimately, it’s Mandolese’s job to lose. I’m sure Bibeau is coming in knowing he needs to beat Mandolese out, but I believe the number one job is Sogaard’s to lose, with those two battling behind him.”

The Senators Rookies play three games in Buffalo on Friday, September 16, 2022 (3:30 p.m. vs Boston), Sunday, September 18, 2022 (12:00 p.m. vs Montreal), and Monday, September 19, 2022 (1:30 p.m. vs Buffalo). The Belleville Sens will open their AHL camp on October 2, 2022, at CAA Arena, with more information on who is attending, open practice schedules and more to be available in the coming weeks.

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