Sens prospect Rudolfs Balcers came into training camp this season hoping to make a good impression on new head coach D.J. Smith and his staff and if it hadn't been for a lower body injury sustained during a pre-season game he was likely a favourite to start the NHL season with the Senators.
After 6 weeks of recovery in Ottawa, Balcers was sent to Belleville to get back into game action. He admits that it was difficult to catch up to a group that was already a month into their season but credits Troy Mann and his coaching staff for helping to build him back up before his November 15th debut.
"I talk a lot with Troy and he's been a big help for me. I was struggling to find my game after that injury at the start of the year and he pushed me to work through it," he said. "We would also do skill work with Colin Chaulk every week and he's just another smart coach. You can feel that the coaching staff in Belleville is 100% behind us."
Balcers started his stint in the American Hockey League with ridiculous 15-game point streak, which stands as a franchise record for Belleville, where he amassed 6 goals, 16 assists for 22 points. But the Senators' AHL affiliate has also seen some incredible offensive performances from a bevy of its young stars this season which Balcers' believes is good for the entire group.
"Everyone's been scoring so it doesn't really matter who you're playing with," said Balcers. "Some players would get hot and go on a bit of a tear and then next game you're on their line. So it's like 'oh geez, I guess I have to keep up and score too'. When those opportunities came, it pushed us to be better because you want to be a part of it."
Video: VAN@OTT: Balcers scores 14 seconds into 3rd
The Belleville Senators currently sit in the top spot in the North Division at the time of the hiatus and while their success in the standings this year has been impressive, the manner in which they have won those games was equally fun to watch.
"It's been a blast to be honest with you. With all these comebacks and overtime wins, we never feel like we're out of the game," said Balcers. "There was a game back in early February against Laval that we were trailing 4-1 in the third period with 5 minutes left and we came back to win 5-4 in overtime. Since then, we know we can beat anybody because of how dangerous our offence is. We never gave up and we were never out of games."
"We're one of the youngest teams in the league but it's such a good and talented group," he added. "Everyone gets along so well and we all take care of each other. It makes coming to the rink every day a lot of fun."
Balcers also shared that the comradery among the young prospects in Belleville has been a good support system as players shuffle back and forth from the AHL on a regular basis. While there may be competition to earn NHL opportunities, he believes that has helped the collective to raise their games which benefits everyone.
"Everyone who got called up to Ottawa definitely deserved it. If you played well in Belleville and did the right things, they'd notice in Ottawa and you could earn your shot to prove yourself in the NHL," Balcers said. "They want to test the young players so every time you see a teammate called up, you're happy for them."
Balcers has appeared in 15 games in Ottawa this season and was with the team when the NHL season was postponed in mid-March. For more news and stats on the Belleville Senators, click here.