The Belleville Senators returned to game action at the newly-minted CAA Arena on Friday night, hosting the Laval Rocket for the first of two preseason games and skating to a 5-0 victory.
With more than 30 players in camp B-Sens’s coach Troy Mann split the squad into two, with a a mix of new additions and returning players, who are trying to earn their spot in the starting line up next week.
Mann says overall he was pleased with the performance and the win will serve as a good confidence boost heading towards the regular season.
It was easy to see the Belleville mindset shift to speed and offence, as the Senators peppered Michael McNiven with 14 shots in the first period, coming close to beating the Rocket netminder a handful of times.
Some of the best chances of the frame came in pairs.
Jonathan Racine had a couple of long shots from the point midway through the period and Gabriel Gagne got a pair of chances as well, the first on a tough angle shot from the far corner and the second, in tight in front of the net.
Boston Leier also had a good chance, walking in off the right point and firing a high wrist shot from the circle, but McNiven was able to grab it.
The chemistry between newcomers Drake Batherson and Logan Brown was evident from the get go, with the two former World Junior Championship players (Batherson with Canada and Brown with USA) using their skill to create some chances.
That work paid off early in the second period as they hooked up for a power play goal less than 1:30 in to open the scoring.
Batherson curled around a defender with a toe drag and slid a pass across to Brown, who hammered it home past McNiven.
Nick Paul, who also fit in well on a line with the rookies, earned the other assist on the goal.
Paul would get his name in the goal column a few minutes later as well, redirecting the puck past McNiven on a delayed penalty call, to make it 2-0.
Even though it seemed like Laval touched the puck, Belleville kept the play alive and worked the puck around the top of the zone to Jordan Murray, who saw Paul parked in front of the net.
Murray zipped a low and hard pass right onto the tape of Paul, who just had to change the puck’s direction into a half-empty net.
The Rocket took a tripping penalty moments later and the offensive push kept coming, with another Belleville power play goal.
Jordy Stallard, playing on a try out after finishing last season with the WHL Prince Albert Raiders (where he had 91 points in 72 games) got open at the left wing circle and rifled a wrist shot top-corner, to McNiven’s blocker side, to make it 3-0.
As a guy playing for one of a handful of spots on the opening day roster, the 21 year-old from Brandon Manitoba says it was nice to contribute to the scoring and try to make an impression with the coaching staff.
Laval made a goaltending change after Belleville’s third goal, with Etienne Marcoux replacing McNiven. Hogberg had been perfect for Belleville, only facing nine shots at the 10:00 mark of the second period.
He would only face two more by the end of the frame, with Belleville putting 30 the other way.
Both teams exchanged chances to start the third period, with returning fan favourite Jim O’Brien making it 4-0 about 5:00 in.
He hustled into the zone, picked up a loose puck and wasted no time wiring a quick shot off the post and past Marcoux, to extend the lead.
O’Brien would net another close to 6:00 later and make it 5-0 Belleville, on another wrist shot, this time off the rush.
The veteran forward says along with preparing for another season, the team is adjusting to the new coaching staff and systems as well.
The Rocket would get a few more shots on Hogberg and hit a post or two, but the Swedish tender was able to quietly earn the preseason shutout, making 18 saves.
Coach Mann says, with the roster as big as it is right now, his staff has lots of evaluating to do this weekend and moving forward.
The Senators are home to the Rocket again on Saturday, 7:05 p.m. at CAA Arena, with pre-game coverage on CJBQ beginning at 6:50 p.m.