For the past few months, Sens prospect Josh Norris has been riding high. The first year pro has been turning heads in Belleville this season and has seen his offensive game flourish keeping him among the top scorers in the American Hockey League recently.
But despite how effortless he's made the transition seem, it didn't come easy for Norris. He spent the second half of his freshman season at the University of Michigan rehabbing his shoulder after suffering an injury at the Worlds Juniors with Team USA in early January of 2019.
"I was thinking about that a few weeks ago when I passed the year mark of when I had my surgery. It definitely wasn't easy and I for sure struggled at the start a little bit but I think that's normal," he said about his recovery. "Your confidence comes back naturally and even though it took me a bit of time to trust my shoulder again but once I got over that I felt completely normal."
Norris was quick to credit Troy Mann and the coaching staff in Belleville for the role that they played in his adjustment to the AHL early in the season. With the unknowns about the durability of his shoulder and transitioning from the NCAA to the AHL, Norris leaned on Mann and his assistants for guidance.
"It's been unbelievable for my hockey career. I'm very happy with my decision to turn pro and they have such a great coaching staff in Belleville," said Norris. "They've helped me immensely with my confidence and learning how to play the right way. They've been teaching me the pro game and it's really helped my development this season."
Fast forward to February 22nd and Norris had pushed his way to the top of the league-leaders in scoring in the AHL and had earned the opportunity to make his National Hockey League debut against the Montreal Canadiens. Looking back on his first game in Ottawa, Norris was content with his play but admitted it was a bit of a challenge to just focus on the game.
"I think with your first game you try not to worry so much about playing super well. I think you just try to go out there and enjoy it and do the best that you can," he said of his NHL debut. "It's a new experience and you just try to take it all in. For me, I thought I got better as the game went on. I was a little nervous in the first period but I think I settled right in over the final 40 minutes."
Norris has appeared in 3 games in Ottawa to date and believes that his time spent in the NHL could have a big impact in Belleville where they are pushing for a top seed in the AHL playoffs.
"The experience alone has been huge. Just knowing that I can play at this level and contribute is such a confidence boost," said Norris. "I'm excited to take what I've learned in during my time in the NHL and implement it in Belleville down the stretch."
"If you look at our line-up when we're all healthy, there's a lot of skill there. I know we're young but there's a lot of talented players in Belleville," he added. "The American League isn't an easy league to play in and it's not typically dominated by young players so to do what we've done this year has been a lot of fun."
Video: Gord Wilson chats with Josh Norris after a 5-2 win
The Belleville Senators currently sit in first place in the Eastern Conference and are eyeing home ice advantage when the playoffs kick off in mid-April. It would be a bit of a homecoming for the city as well as Belleville hasn't seen post-season hockey since the Bulls lost in the first round of the OHL playoffs back in 2015.
Norris shared that both he and his teammates are excited at the opportunity for the fanbase to embrace a potentially lengthy playoff run this spring.
"Hopefully the city can rally behind us a little bit in the playoffs," he said. "I think we've got a roster that can go on a good run so we're really excited to see what we can do once the post-season starts."
Norris and the Belleville Senators kick-off a two-game home stand tonight against the Rochester Americans. For more details on the latest BSens news and their remaining schedule this season visit bellevillesens.com.