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Year In Review: Belleville Senators find success in face of adversity

In spite of their first-round playoff exit, the Belleville Senators had good reason to hold their sticks high as they saluted the CAA Arena faithful, some of the best and most knowledgeable fans in the American Hockey League. The emotional defeat on Friday May 6, 2022, capped a successful season that saw the club produce an impressive 40-28-4-0 record and make the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in the team’s five-year history.
The organization’s first trip to the postseason was a long time coming. In the past two seasons, playoffs were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions at a time when the Senators could have very well entered as Calder Cup title favourites due to the wealth of talent led by head coach Troy Mann and his excellent staff, especially during the 2019-20 season.
The franchise can undoubtedly look back on the 2021-22 campaign as a year of growth that further developed the on-ice product and helped solidify the Bay of Quinte as a top hockey market. Mann was especially pleased with his team’s performance in the face of adversity.
“I think overall, anytime a team gets 40 wins in the regular season, it tells me that you’ve had a pretty solid year and considering the adversity the team felt and still playing through some COVID situations, using 51 players, which was the highest in the division and seven starting goalies, usually when that type of adversity goes through a team, you’re fighting at the bottom of the standings. I think it’s a credit to the type of people and players we are drafting and the type of veteran presence we’ve been trying to bring in and instil that winning culture and do things the right way.”
The stretch drive and brief appearance in the postseason saw local fans offer their unwavering support for the club. The AHL Senators’ strong play and playoff appearance raised hopes that the franchise can continue to demonstrate greater successes in the near future. The Senators’ marketing and business staff saw steady expansion in ticket and merchandise sales and community interest in the club, which was strong even before the playoff push.
“It was awesome to see over four-thousand fans in the building for the first time since I started coaching here,” Mann said. “Obviously, there was the pandemic year and the season that stopped short, but even that year, we were in first place with arguably next to Milwaukee, the best team in the AHL, and we weren’t generating crowds of four-thousand. So it certainly wasn’t a quality of play that was dictating that, and to come back and see the crowd we had for game two against Rochester was encouraging and awesome to see. Certainly, when you reflect on losing, you have to think about what type of crowds we would have had for a game three or if we could’ve got past Rochester? What the crowds would’ve been like against Utica? It generates some momentum for the front office going into next year. That’s one of my disappointments because we like Belleville. We love the setup here, the rink is awesome, but it could be a better place for our home guys if it were rocking like it was the last regular-season game or the playoffs.”
Players are also impressed with Belleville, and they want to stay in a region where hockey is made prominent.
“Based on the exit meeting, there was a lot of love given out,” Mann said. “You would think we had just come off a championship, so I think that is certainly a positive. We have lots to build on going into 2022-23 because most seasons, the turnover rate in the AHL is about 50 percent with free agency and players graduating. I think when it comes to the Belleville Senators, unless there is a huge amount of change within the Ottawa Senators roster over the course of the summer,  I think you’ll see a majority of our prospects back.  We’re going to do our very best with a budget to bring a lot of core leaders back because they’ve done such a great job and had good seasons.”

Rochester Americans vs Belleville Senators Calder Cup Playoffs Round 1 May 6, 2022 © Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography

“Everyone of our leaders expressed interest in returning, so I think how we act as an organization and how we treat our players, the facility, and how we treat the guys on the road speaks for itself in terms of those players wanting to return to keep the core together. Those guys are your best messengers. At the end of the day, it’s about becoming a hockey player and a team. We try to do everything possible to make it a great spot, so Logan Shaw, Andrew Agozzino, and Zac Leslie are passing that message along because, as we all know, players talk. I believe we’ve done a good job over my four years here of instilling that.
Fans, executives, employees, coaches, and players agree that the Quinte region is a special place to play and watch hockey. In many ways, the growing quality of the on-ice product speaks for itself.
Submitted by: Joel Vanderlaan (@Joelvanderlaan)
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