📝 by Patrick Williams
To look at Mads Sogaard’s line this past Saturday night against the Hershey Bears, one might think that the Belleville Senators netminder struggled.
Instead Sogaard held the B-Sens in what ended up as a 5-4 loss before a rambunctious Giant Center crowd in Hershey. The Bears needed to plant three of those goals on the power play to overcome Sogaard’s strong 30-save night.
“I certainly think that Sogaard has the potential to be a number-one goalie in the NHL,” Belleville head coach Troy Mann said after the game while standing on the Belleville bench and looking out at the Giant Center ice.
The 6-foot-7 Sogaard went to the parent Ottawa Senators as a second-round selection in the 2019 NHL Draft. Now at age 21 and in his second pro season, the “Great Dane” is meeting the promise that Ottawa saw in the athletic netminder while he played with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League after coming to North America from Denmark.
After beginning last season back in Denmark with Esbjerg, Sogaard made his way to Belleville and went 7-0-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in his AHL debut. This season Sogaard has a record of 10-10-0 with a 2.73 GAA and a .906 save percentage while playing a team-leading 21 games in net. With fellow prospect Filip Gustavsson back from Ottawa, Belleville has a strong one-two punch of young goaltending talent. Gustavsson, 23, came to the Ottawa organization in a multi-player trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in February 2018.
“It’s going to be a great battle between those two guys here in the second half,” Mann said of his Gustavsson-Sogaard tandem.
Thanks to a week in which the Senators took two of three games on a swing through Pennsylvania, Mann’s club sits at 19-19-0-0 (.500) and fifth in the tight North Division. This week’s itinerary features a home date Wednesday evening against the third-place Laval Rocket before a home-and-home series with the Toronto Marlies. Belleville’s next seven games will be against North Division clubs.
Handling the pro grind that a week like this presents is one of Sogaard’s primary objectives this season.
“Turning into a full-time pro [is a goal],” Sogaard explained. “It’s a long season. It’s a grind, and times when you’re not feeling good, you’re trying to find ways to give your team a chance to win anyways.”
Last week Gustavsson shut out the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 5-0, and then defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 2-1. With games piling up this month, Mann turned back to Sogaard for the trip into Hershey.
After the Bears took a 6-3 defeat at Lehigh Valley a night earlier, Mann expected to see Hershey’s best early, and he got it. Belleville faced a 5-on-3 Hershey power play that Mike Vecchione converted 2:35 into the game. Hershey’s neutral-zone speed challenged the visitors, but Sogaard got the B-Sens out of the period at 2-2.
“Coming into this building, [the] really good crowd gave them a push,” Sogaard said. “We knew they were going to come hard early, and coming out of the first with a tie, I think [it could be] considered weathering the storm.”
Said Mann, “I thought the first period, as I told the guys, we knew that based on Hershey’s result [the previous] night that they were going to make that push in the first 10 minutes.
“I thought he made three or four great saves, even though they got the lead. So once we got our game going, and we calmed the game down and started scoring ourselves, I thought we were fine. But certainly they made some momentum pushes where I thought he was very, very good.”
With Sogaard able to keep the Senators in the game until his club could find its footing, Belleville then managed to break three Hershey leads. They then played with the lead for the first time on captain Logan Shaw’s goal 1:39 into the third period, and with the Bears pressing, Belleville was outshot 12-6 in the final period.
But Sogaard gave his club an opportunity to grab two points. For the young goaltender, it was a strong response as he competes with Gustavsson for playing time.
“His composure, obviously he’s got the big size in the net and moves very well, and I think he’s just scratching the surface here,” Mann said. “But if you look at his one month last year…and what he’s done this year so far, certainly I think [Ottawa management has] to be happy with where his development’s at.”
Ottawa has Sogaard working closely with Belleville goaltending coach Justin Peters, a calm personality who went through some of these same challenges 15 years ago as a Carolina Hurricanes second-round pick. The pair came together last season as Peters started his first season of coaching following a 14-season pro career.
“I’m very fortunate to have great coaches to help,” Sogaard said of the organization. “[Peters is] awesome. He works every day with us. [Mann] is nice enough to give us goalie ice every single day. So we get to practice a lot and get a lot of reps in.
“[Peters is] so good for me mentally as well. I’ve talked with him about pretty much anything and just really appreciate what he’s done for me this year. I’m really happy that I get to work with him.”
Back in Hershey where he won the 2010 Calder Cup as an assistant coach before later leading the Bears for four seasons and taking the team to the 2016 Calder Cup Finals (with Peters as his goaltender), Mann came away happy with his goaltenders and Belleville’s week.
“I think when you look at the trip, four [points] out of six is certainly what the goal was,” Mann said.
“We had an opportunity to get six out of six, and it just didn’t come to fruition. But I thought the game could have [gone] either way. I think any time you come down through this three-game set here with three tough buildings, and you can get four out of six, you’ve got to be happy with it.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.