It was a long road to Belleville’s first ever playoff appearance, as the final month of the season was spent scoreboard watching every night. While the BSens were neck and neck with three or four other teams on any given night, it started to feel like they were playoff bound; they were good.
When they matched up against the Rochester Americans in the first round, I predicted that Belleville would take the series 2-1, citing Belleville’s experience and Rochester’s lack of defensive prowess to be the reason the good guys would come out on top. Unfortunately, the X Factor I identified in Rochester with their young guns ended up being the difference maker, and Belleville was eliminated in two straight overtime defeats.
While it wasn’t the season the team or the fans wanted, it was great to see a playoff game take place at CAA Arena for the first time. This team was exciting, they gave it their all, and they took both of their playoff games to overtime . All in all, it’s hardly something to look back at with disappointment.
Now that a long offseason is ahead for both Belleville and Ottawa, let’s dive into the year we’ve had and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. Although, honestly, it’s mostly good.
End of Year Grades
Let’s kick things off with some end of year grades. Here’s how it broke down:
- To be assigned a grade, you need to have a minimum of 20 games played - with two exceptions: Viktor Lodin and Kevin Mandolese. Why? Because I said so.
- Grades were assigned based on a combination of offensive production, defensive positioning, special teams play and just my plain old gut feeling from watching tape:
Belleville End of Year Grades
|Jake Lucchini||A||Zac Leslie||C+||Mads Søgaard||B+|
|Roby Järventie||B+||Jacob Bernard-Docker||B+||Filip Gustavsson||A-|
|Cole Reinhardt||B+||Colby Williams||C+||Kevin Mandolese||C|
|Matthew Wedman||C||Maxence Guenette||B-|
|Andrew Agozzino||B+||Jonathan Aspirot||B-|
|Egor Sokolov||A||Dillon Heatherington||B+|
|Mark Kastelic||A-||Lassi Thomson||B+|
|Logan Shaw||A-||Michael Del Zotto||A+|
|Cedric Pare||C+||Xavier Bernard||C+|
Let’s take a look at some awards, highlighting the biggest contributors for Belleville this season. We’ll outline the Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, the top player for each position, two All-Star Teams and some quick write-ups on other standout performances.
Most Valuable Player
Just one point behind Lucchini for the team lead, Sokolov’s sophomore AHL season saw him double last years output with 50 points in 64 games. His 0.78 points per game is an improvement on his rookie season as well, good for third on the team.
Sokolov ranked third in primary points per game and fourth in even strength primary points per game on the BSens, doing all of this at four to ten years younger than the players above him in these categories. He also led all BSens regulars in EV GF%, indicating Belleville had the best chance of scoring at even strength when Sokolov was on the ice.
Sokolov scored some clutch goals and, most importantly, this is the first time since Sokolov came to North America to play in the QMJHL in 2017 where he had more assists than goals in a season, showing some important growth in his overall offensive game.
Most Improved Player
Thomson went from standout WHL defender and first round pick to “lost cause drowning in the Finnish Liiga” to big time AHLer who saw a few cups of coffee in the big leagues. This rollercoaster all happened over the course of four seasons.
While Thomson looked good when he came to Belleville last year, he was a different player in 2021-22, often leaned on by Head Coach Troy Mann for big minutes — particularly in the offensive zone and on the powerplay.
I’m again discounting MDZ in this award, for the same reason I didn’t include him in the MVP category - he was spectacular in Belleville but wasn’t there all year.
Belleville had a pretty good roster of defenders this year, particularly young ones like Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson, who will surely be members of the Ottawa Senators in the near future. Their top defender, however, is one of their veterans who was outstanding from start to finish this year.
For top defender, I’m giving the award to Dillon Heatherington.
There’s nothing about Heatherington’s game that jumps off the page statistically. He’s a case where if you don’t watch the game - and don’t have access to in depth tracking data for review of advanced analytics - you would have looked at his 2021-22 campaign and questioned his worth to the club.
Heatherington’s contributions to the BSens blueline this year was all about play in his own end, transitioning the puck and being a reliable player for Mann’s top pairing - often with JBD as his partner. While he didn’t get credit for them in the points column, Belleville scored 33 even strength goals while Heatherington on the ice, first amongst defenders, while only allowing 20 against. Think about how impressive that is. Over the course of 45 games in Belleville, the team only allowed 20 (!) goals against at even strength with him on the ice. No Belleville Senator boasted a better defensive track record.
This is a tough one because, on one hand, Filip Gustavsson had a 0.915 SV% through 20 games with an 11-6-1 record. On the other hand, Mads Søgaard spent the entire season between the pipes in Belleville, starting 35 games - 15 more than Gustavsson - while managing a 0.908 SV% and 19-14-1 record. Both goaltenders had good-to-great seasons for Belleville, but with Søgaard being the steady, consistent fixture between the pipes, I have to lean, ever so slight, towards the Great Dane™ as Belleville’s Top Goaltender.
From the beginning of March until Søgaard suffered a minor injury near the end of the season, Belleville went 8-3-1 with Søgaard in net as he posted a 0.920 SV% through those 12 games. Right when Belleville was fighting for their first playoff berth in franchise history, Søgaard was stepping up his game and providing more the solid goalie play necessary for his team to pick up crucial points down the stretch.
Other Standout Performances
Acquired at the beginning of the season, Jake Lucchini came into this year with a previous career high of 15 points. Through a full season in which Lucchini dressed for every game, he contributed 20 goals and 31 assists for 51 points - good for the team lead in points and fifth on the team in points per game.
Lucchini is a player I considered for the MVP award based on the shock value of his massive step forward on the ice and the fact he did all this without missing a single game. He was a close second behind Sokolov.
Michael Del Zotto
Michael Del Zotto felt like a cheat code when he was sent down. It was interesting to see just how little of an impact he had at the NHL level for much of the season and then to see him come down and absolutely dominate with Belleville. Del Zotto was the only BSen who played above a point per game this season, with 27 in 26 contests. Had MDZ played the full season in Belleville at this rate, he would’ve been a lock for Most Valuable Player.
The Captain led Belleville in primary points per game while sitting right with Lucchini and Sokolov when it came to overall production. He also scored some crucial goals for the team, showing up when they needed him most.
Overall, his leadership on the ice was evident, as he, like Ottawa’s captain, did a great job of dragging people into battle with him.
While Mark Kastelic’s offensive production doesn’t jump off the page, he was still Belleville’s most important centre in my eyes. He played important minutes, was dominant in the faceoff circle, physically imposing in the corners and made life hell for his opponents in front of the net. Kastelic has future fourth line centre in the NHL written all over him.
Viktor Lodin was here for a good time, not a long time. But what a good time it was. Following his first two games where he wasn’t able to crack the scoresheet, Lodin put up eight points in the eight games that followed before he was taken out of the lineup due to a non-covid illness - seeing him miss both of Belleville’s playoff games. While he only played ten games, he technically led the entire team in primary points per game (0.800), eclipsing Shaw (0.585) and Sokolov (0.563). Here’s hoping this wasn’t a flash in the pan and we can expect Lodin to be this good, or better, when the AHL season kicks off in October.
Belleville All Star Teams
LW: Jake Lucchini
C: Mark Kastelic
RW: Egor Sokolov
LD: Dillon Heatherington
RD: Lassi Thomson
G: Mads Søgaard
LW: Andrew Agozzino
C: Rourke Chartier
RW: Logan Shaw
LD: Michael Del Zotto
RD: Jacob Bernard-Docker
G: Filip Gustavsson
A quick look into the future likely sees this Belleville team become even better next season. While they may see some turnover with their veteran players, and a potential graduation or two from the likes of Parker Kelly and Filip Gustavsson likely moving on, much of the young core are likely to return.
Belleville will get another full season of Mads Søgaard in net, while Egor Sokolov is also likely to return. Mark Kastelic is a potential question mark, as he played well down the stretch for Ottawa, but I’d pencil him into more AHL than NHL games, in total, next season. Then you have a basic guarantee that one or both of Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker will, similar to Kastelic, play more AHL than NHL hockey next season as the blueline in Ottawa could once again be crowded.
You’ve got some important additions. Viktor Lodin will almost certainly spend all of next year in Belleville, probably putting up similar production to what he did this year while we can expect Angus Crookshank to also rejoin the club after he missed this entire season with an injury. I’m also in the camp that Ridly Greig will most benefit from a year under Mann, rather than being forced into the NHL right away, and he’ll most certainly be a star when he arrives in Belleville in the fall.
Philippe Daoust will also be in Belleville next year. He started the year in the AHL and had five points in 15 games before getting returned to the QMJHL where he tore the league apart, with 47 points in 38 games.
Turning 20 in August, Leevi Meerilainen will also have the option to return to the OHL as an overager or turn pro and be added to the Belleville crease for the season.
While this year wasn’t what we wanted it to be, the Belleville Senators have a bright future with a solid stable of young players being continuously added to a great roster under the leadership of Troy Mann.
I also wanted to thank everyone for reading along with my Belleville coverage this season — it’s been a pleasure writing for you!