Following his first season at the helm of Ottawa's AHL affiliate, Belleville Senators head coach Troy Mann is hoping to build on his squad's stellar second half that saw them fall just two points short of a playoff berth.
Mann saw plenty of production from his young players down the stretch, which included excellent first pro seasons from 2019 Rookie Showcase skaters Drake Batherson and Logan Brown, and he anticipates the youth movement to continue in his second season in Belleville.
"It's looking like our team could be even younger than last year with the number of really good prospects coming in," said Mann who arrived in Ottawa last week to begin prepping for this weekend's tournament and upcoming AHL season. "From a coaching standpoint, you have to be a little bit more patient. We faced a lot of adversity in the first half of last year with injuries and recalls to Ottawa, specifically at the goaltending position, so we're hopeful that it will take a little less time to get everyone on the same page."
The B-Sens ultimately came up short in their bid for the club's first playoff berth since moving to Belleville in 2017 but Mann believes that that experience could be a valuable learning opportunity for the Senators' talented group of prospects.
"We obviously had a fabulous second half and had one of the best records from Christmas on in the entire AHL," he said. "Our start this season will be huge. We were chasing it pretty much all year and unfortunately we came up two points short."
Before the puck drops against the Toronto Marlies on October 5th for the beginning of their regular season, Belleville is set to host the top prospects from the Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets for a 4-game tournament that kicks off on Friday night at CAA Arena.
Mann will take his regular place behind the bench in Belleville this weekend as he continues to guide Ottawa's talented young group and believes that the 2019 Rookie Showcase is a great opportunity for the prospects to get a glimpse at what hockey in the Bay of Quinte region looks like firsthand.
"A good percentage of this weekend's roster have already or will ultimately play in Belleville," said Mann. "It's an opportunity for them to get acclimated to the city, the facilities and the routine of what comes with playing in the AHL here as well as introduce themselves to the fans."
Video: Ottawa Senators | 2019 Rookie Showcase
With a new coaching staff headlined by D.J. Smith in place in Ottawa for this season, Mann hopes to integrate more of the tactics that the Senators' NHL club plans to deploy and believes that a symbiotic relationship between the two teams as well as similar playing styles could make for an easier transition as the prospects move up through the system.
"Being here in Ottawa gives us a chance to see how D.J. is going to play. It's going to be very similar to how we play in Belleville," Mann said. "Quite frankly, last year we just played different from how Ottawa did but this season we'll be using a lot more of the same concepts."
Mann admitted that it will be difficult to begin instituting new systems this weekend due to the team's limited practice time leading up to their tournament opener against the Jets' top prospects on Friday night but he does believe the Rookie Showcase games offer an opportunity to earn some victories on the ice while evaluating the Senators' young players before training camp opens in just over a week.
"We want to win every game but with the results not carrying two points, it lets us do a little bit of trial and error with our line-up," shared Mann. "There's only one practice before our first game and you're trying to throw some systems at them. As a coach, you want a little bit of structure so it's not just shinny hockey out there. At the end of the day, it's a chance for us to win some games as well as get a look at what we have for both Ottawa and Belleville."
The 2019 Rookie Showcase is set to run from September 6th-9th in Belleville with the Senators prospects participating in three games over that span. For more details on the tournament schedule and tickets, please click here.