by Addie Sejan | AHL On The Beat
The difference between European and North American rinks may not seem huge, but adapting to the change for Binghamton Devils goaltender Gilles Senn has come with a few learning curves.
“I knew the rinks were small, but when I came [to Binghamton] they told me the ice was even smaller,” Senn said. “I was really comfortable with the small rink in practice, but when I came into the prospect tournament, it was different, so I got a bit nervous about how it was going to be in Binghamton. I realized it would take time to get used to and after a few games, I started to feel really comfortable.”
The 6-foot-4, 202-pound netminder is accustomed to playing in Switzerland’s National League, where rinks follow guidelines set by the International Ice Hockey Federation of 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. In North America, a standard rink will run 200 feet long by 85 feet wide – a full 15-foot difference in width. At the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, a slightly shorter neutral zone leads to ice measuring 196.5 feet long by 85 feet wide.
This period of learning is something the Devils organization was fully aware of, and has confidence in.
“One of the things we identified with Gilles before we drafted him is he’s got good size, good athleticism, he reads plays very well, he’s very cerebral, he challenges well and he plays on emotion,” Binghamton goaltending coach Scott Clemmensen said. “Those are some intangibles that are tough to teach.
“Playing his whole career growing up in Switzerland and playing on the European ice, the passes take longer to get to where they’re going and actually, the style of play is a little bit different too. It takes the players a little bit longer setting up the play or shooting. What that means from a goalie standpoint is that you have more time. He’s going from one extreme to the other and that’s what we’ve been working on now.”
The pair have been focusing on technical aspects of the game to help the Visp, Switzerland, native adapt.
“Clemmensen told me that I had to play deeper in the crease.” Senn explained. “I was a goalie who played a little bit wider out or I was right on top of the crease. They told me it’s better to play a little deeper because with rebounds or on 2-on-1, the ice is smaller and the boards are not wide like in Switzerland. That really helped me because that was a big part of my game. I can play much better playing deeper in the crease.”
And his quick progression has shown. In the six games that Senn has started, his record stands at 3-2-1 with a 2.93 goals-against average and save percentage of .895.
“The amount of growth I’ve seen in Gilles since the rookie tournament has been exponential,” Devils head coach Mark Dennehy said. “He’s long and has a good level of quickness. I think he reads the play pretty well. He looks a lot more comfortable. He has made adjustment very quickly.”
After working closely with the 23-year-old goaltender, Clemmensen feels similarly.
“He’s really progressed at a high rate,” Clemmensen said. “I think one of the reasons for that is his absorption and how quickly he’s able to take information, utilize it, and execute it into the game and in practice. It is still going to take time as he starts to kind of mold and train his muscles to work in a different way. The more you’re training your muscles to do it without thinking, that’s what you want.
“But we’re only a month into the season, he’s only played a handful of games and I’ve seen progression each game.”
Only a month and a half into the season, Senn has developed an appreciation for the smaller rink, but understands that he is still learning and getting used to a new style of play.
“Yeah, I think I like it now,” he said. “When you get used to it, you’re really comfortable, especially when you stop the puck behind the net. It’s shorter and it makes for shorter plays and you’re already outside. I think it will take a little more time –- like half of a season or maybe a full season — to really get a feel, but I really enjoy it right now.”