It's a fresh start for the Senators' AHL affiliate as the team's inaugural season in Belleville got underway on October 6th. Due to the on-going renovations at the Yardmen Arena, the B-Sens started on the road for their first 9 games but while the travel grind was difficult, it helped the comradery in the locker room blossom for this young squad.
"It wasn't easy for us starting the season with 9 games on the road," said first-year pro Filip Chlapik. "But if you are to look at the positive, it really helped to bring the guys together. We had a lot of time together and team dinners so we got to know each other really well."
The Sens posted a respectable 4-4-1 record to start the season, including back-to-back wins against the Manitoba Moose to close out their first road trip, which lead them into their home opener on November 1st.
Forward Tyler Randell is no stranger to hockey life in Belleville as he skated for a season and a half with the Belleville Bulls in the Ontario Hockey League to start his Junior career.
"They have a great fan base here and it was sad to see the Bulls leave," Randell recalled. "Honestly, it's been great for the community to get a team back in this city. The fans have been even better than what I remembered. It's great to have hockey back in Belleville."
At the crux of hockey's return to Belleville were the aforementioned renovations to the Yardmen Arena that included large additions, brand new training facilities and lots of improvements for the fan experience.
"It's NHL caliber and that's something I know that Ottawa wanted," said Belleville Senators' captain Mike Blunden. "The way that the organization, the city and Rob Mullowney have taken care of us has been first class and hopefully we can put a good product on the ice and make a good run."
Randell echoed Blunden's testimony.
"I didn't even recognize it," said Randell who played with the Bulls from 2007 to 2009. "Driving by and seeing that big extension on the outside and then walking through the rooms…the renovation to the Yardmen has been incredible."
A capacity crowd in Belleville got their first taste of the updated rink in the team's home opener against the Syracuse Crunch on November 1st with the Senators earning a 4-3 win in a shootout.
"You could see the love of hockey in this city and with these fans during the home opener. It was unbelievable and extra special for me to be back," Randell said. "Stepping back out on that ice for the first time in 9 years was a really great experience. It was great to be able to give our fans a win in our first game at home."
Second-year pro Gabriel Gagne scored the lone goal in the shootout to seal the victory, the first home win in Belleville Senators history.
"That was a great feeling," recalled Gagne. "To help get the win in our first game in front of our home fans was incredible. The building was so loud after I scored."
The B-Sens hit the road again this week for 4 games starting tomorrow night in Charlotte against the Checkers.
The Belleville Senators' record on the season currently sits at 8-8-1 with 5 players (Gagne, Werek, O'Brien, McCormick and Chlapik) all tied for the team scoring lead with 9 points.
Here's a look at some of the team's other stat leaders to start the year…
- G: Gagne (8)
- A: McCormick, Chlapik (7)
- PPG: Gagne, Werek (2)
- SHG: McCormick (1)
- +/-: Jaros (+3)
- SOG: Gagne, O'Brien (43)
- PIM: Randell (36)
- W:Hammond (5)
- GAA: Hammond (2.79)
- SV%: Hammond (.919)
From the GM:
The fan support around the city of Belleville has been incredible. They love the logo and they love the brand so our job now is to convert some of the existing Montreal and Toronto fans in the area. We know that they'll become B-Sens fans because it's such a knowledgable hockey base that they'll appreciate the fact that they're going to see guys play on a Wednesday or Thursday night at the Yardmen Arena and then see them play on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night. - Randy Lee on the support in Belleville to start their inaugural season