Ottawa Senators’ prospect Kevin Mandolese is well aware of his status as a late-round draft pick.
The young netminder, who turns 20 in August, knows that many in his situation would view being a sixth-round selection as a stigma they want to shake, but a newfound confidence has Mandolese assured in his future.
“I feel more pride than I do a chip on my shoulder”, said Mandolese in a recent phone interview with Silver Seven Sens, “It’s really what you do after you get drafted that matters. I take more pride in having the year I had, than saying I’m a late-round pick”.
The year that Mandolese had, was the best of his young career.
The 2018 sixth-round selection struggled in his post-draft QMJHL season, posting a .895SV% with the Cape Breton Eagles but did begin to find his groove in that year’s playoff. It was this past season, however, that Mandolese broke out as one of the league’s top goaltenders, ending the shortened year with a .925SV%, and 2.33GAA. His performance helped him to 26 wins, including 18 in his last 21 appearances down the stretch, on an Eagles squad that finished fifth overall in league standings.
Mandolese attributes the improvement to switching to a gym and trainer recommended by the Senators which allowed him to get the attention he needed, as well as to learn from the pros.
“It really helped me off the ice, after workouts, seeing the little details they do. It helped me more in that way than it did on the ice”, he said.
Though achieving a higher level of fitness was important to Mandolese, he explained that the biggest breakthrough was a mental one, and resulted in him finding a confidence that he now carries proudly. While he had always received votes of confidence from coaches, scouts, teammates, family and friends, Mandolese’s game took off when he was able to find that same confidence in his own abilities.
“I really think the biggest thing was, mentally, and it started mid-season in [2018-2019]”, he explained, “One of my goalie coaches told me to talk to a sports psychologist, so in January or February, that’s where my game kind of evolved and I could bring my best game day in and day out. I think having that for a full year made me able to have the year I had”.
“It’s really a confidence thing. I knew I was a good goalie, but I think people had more faith in me than I had in myself. That’s the biggest thing, I knew I wasn’t believing in myself as much as I should. It really took me believing in myself to actually do it.”
Finding his game in the way that he did, combined with Cape Breton looking like a championship contender, made the CHL’s cancellation of the 2020 season and playoffs a bitter pill to swallow for Mandolese. The team, while shorter on big-name talent than some other contenders, was deep and just beginning to hit their stride at the season’s cessation.
“We were beating teams like Moncton and Rimouski at home, and it showed us that we could go deep in the playoffs and beat those teams”, says Mandolese, when asked about not concluding his junior career the way he had envisioned.
“For me, I spent my whole career there, and they were building for my 19 year-old season. So it was shocking and it was sad at the same time. But at the end of the day, I knew health and all those things came before hockey. But it was disappointing because we had all of those pieces, and we were building up to the playoffs, the last few months were successful for us, so it was really disappointing”.
Despite not getting the chance to achieve his goal of bringing a championship to Cape Breton, Mandolese has his mind fully set on turning pro. His breakout season in the QMJHL netted him an entry-level contract with the Senators, which he signed this past April.
“It’s definitely humbling, and I’m grateful for the confidence they’ve shown in me”, Mandolese said, “At the same time, it was kind of a relief to be able to prove to myself that I can do that, because I know I wasn’t a high pick, and I was late in the draft, so it was kind of fun to prove to myself that even though I was a late pick I can still earn a contract.”
In an interview with the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch on May 1st, Senators goaltending coach Pierre Groulx confirmed that Mandolese will start the 2021 season — whenever that may be — with the ECHL’s Brampton Beast. It’s a challenge that the Blainville, Québec native has received with confidence.
“It’s definitely going to be an adjustment from junior. There’s going to be a period where I have to adjust, but new challenges are always fun”, said Mandolese, also mentioning his excitement about Brampton’s close proximity to a fellow netminder.
“Being close to Joey [Daccord] is probably going to help because I can ask him some questions”.
For a player who has raved about the benefits of getting insight from pros, one can only imagine the rewards Mandolese’s game will reap as he begins his own professional career. The confidence that he has found over the past couple of seasons will be vital heading into his first ECHL campaign, but expect Mandolese to continue to make a name for himself.
For those not intimate with the young goaltender’s playing style, he offered a comparison to an NHLer all too familiar to Ottawa Senators fans.
“I’m more of the style that looks like Matt Murray in Pittsburgh, I’m athletic and I’m a bigger goalie. I have some good lateral movement, so that would be the closest I’d be to an NHL goalie”.
Given his abilities, and his now trademark confidence, Kevin Mandolese is not a prospect that Senators fans should lose sight of in a deep pool of young goaltenders.
He believes in himself, and based on his trajectory, maybe you should too.