Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson shake off the rust — and the nerves — as they return to action

BUFFALO, NY—Shane Pinto held a media hearing in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon.

And the young center had no problem throwing light shots at teammate Jake Sanderson.

“When he comes to the rink, he is mature. But when he’s not on the ice, he’s a clown,” Pinto said. “He’ll probably answer me, so that’s fine.”

The two rookies plan to live together this season in Ottawa, although Pinto suggests he’ll handle the majority of kitchen duties.

“Jake can’t cook,” Pinto said. “But it will get there one day.”

It’s clear that Pinto and Sanderson — who were also teammates at the University of North Dakota — have a close relationship built on good-natured, almost brotherly teasing.

But on Friday morning, their usual banter and back-and-forth suddenly disappeared. After finishing breakfast at the team hotel, the two players took an eerily quiet walk along the harbor in downtown Buffalo.

“We walked by the water and didn’t say a word to each other,” Pinto said. “I mean, we were both pretty nervous.”

When Sanderson was asked to describe the march from his perspective on Friday afternoon, he chimed in halfway through the question.

“Now that you mention it, I don’t think we’ve said a word,” Sanderson said with a laugh.

Sanderson was prepared to attribute some of the awkwardness to the unusual start time of Friday’s game against the Boston rookies.

“It was a little weird with a game at 3:30 p.m. so we had nothing else to do,” Sanderson said. “We just wanted to get out. We just walked along the water and I don’t think we said many words. We were just walking and looking around.

The two young men were probably absorbed in their own thoughts, as they were each about to return to play for the first time in months. For Pinto, he hadn’t adapted to a competitive game since re-injuring his left shoulder on November 13. And Sanderson hadn’t played a game for 188 days, since suffering a hand injury that turned out to be his last college. game in March.

So when the two young stars lined up on the blue line during the national anthems ahead of the rookie showcase game against Boston, they admitted nervous energy coursing through their veins.

“But once you play the first shift, you’re like, ‘Okay, it’s just hockey,'” Pinto said. “And I think we both did a good job with that. .”

For his part, Pinto stood out on several occasions during Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Bruins. He opened the scoring with a wrist shot home from the slot on the power play in the first period. Pinto also looked dominant in the face-off circle, winning a clear majority of his draws.

“I felt good and my shoulder feels good,” Pinto said after the game.

But there was one moment in particular that had Ottawa fans — and probably Senators management — holding their breath when it came to Pinto’s health.

Midway through the game, Pinto was hit by a stray puck that caught him high near the collarbone. He collapsed on the ice in pain and immediately left the ice for the Senators locker room. After a few minutes, Pinto returned to the bench with his teammates. And on his second shift on the ice, he fired another wrist shot into the top left corner of the net – leaving his health in no doubt.

Still, Pinto admits there was a moment of disbelief as he lay on the ice in pain.

“I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ Like, are you serious? This is my first game back,” Pinto said.

There were whispers of people wondering why Pinto was attending this tournament in the first place, given that he got a full-time NHL job after training camp last fall. And head coach Troy Mann admits those whispers got even louder when Pinto was briefly on the ice in the second period.

“There were probably a lot of people watching and thinking, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t happening,'” Mann said. “There are types of things you don’t want to happen in rookie showcases. You just want guys to stay healthy. So it was nice to see him back.

But Pinto finished the game and then dismissed the injury simply as a ‘stinger’.

Sanderson’s return to action has been much calmer – but in many ways that probably suits the fluid-skating defender.

Earlier on Friday, Sanderson’s father, Geoff – who scored 355 goals during a 17-year NHL career – said Athleticism that when Jake is playing at his best, he’s nearly invisible on the ice.

“In his own zone, you just won’t notice him,” Geoff said. “The defenders you notice are the ones who jostle in their own area, making bad decisions and bad passes. It is not him. When he plays well, he just makes a first pass at such a high percentage to get out of the zone.

And sure enough, that seemed like a pretty prophetic scouting report for Sanderson’s first game in a Senators jersey. The 20-year-old has logged a significant amount of ice time alongside partner Max Guenette, making plenty of smart, under-the-radar plays that often don’t show up on the scoresheet. He made a lot of clean, smart passes out of his own zone and rarely panicked when the puck was on his stick.

It was Mann’s first opportunity to watch Sanderson with his own eyes in a game situation. And the coach says he was impressed with Sanderson’s composure in all situations, especially in his ability to find seams to make good out passes.

“One of the things you can tell about a player is their hockey IQ level, in terms of playing and seeing what develops there,” Mann explained. “So for me that was probably his greatest strength on my side of the bench, in terms of composure and finding that way. He’s a special player and the organization is very lucky to have someone of his level which is coming.”

Although it doesn’t appear on the official scoresheet, Sanderson made a very skillful play moments before Pinto’s first power-play goal. He accepted a pass from teammate Roby Järventie at the top of the blue line, but the puck was bouncing and could easily have gone out of the area. But Sanderson calmly accepted the rolling puck, put it down, and slid it to Jarventie. Seconds later, the puck was in the back of the Bruins net.

In the second period, Sanderson showed his physical side, deciding to step into the offensive zone and deliver a solid check to Bruins prospect Jakob Lauko just a split second after accepting a pass. Sanderson also served as the Senators’ power-play quarterback on Friday afternoon, while seeing time on the penalty kill.

“I think it was good to have played in that game and (to have) my legs under me,” Sanderson said. “I think for me, going into this game, I was trying to keep it simple and not overdo it right away, especially since it was my first game in a while.”

Sanderson only felt 100% healthy for about three weeks. He suffered a setback with the hand injury earlier this summer which kept him out of the club’s development camp in July. He only started skating and holding a stick in August, slowing his return to full strength.

At one point on Thursday, Sanderson lamented, “It’s been a long summer for me. I’m not going to lie. Lots of ups and downs with my hand.

But after testing the hand Friday in the rookie game against Boston, it’s clear he has no worries going forward. His focus now is on starting main training camp on Wednesday and getting ready for the majority of Ottawa’s eight preseason games.

“I’m not making that decision, but I’m all for playing them all,” Sanderson says. “Like I said, I’m well rested. And ready to play. Whatever Pierre and management want me to play, I’m ready to go.

To that end, the Senators won’t dress Pinto or Sanderson for the final two games of the tournament against Montreal and Buffalo.

“I think it’s important that they prepare for camp now,” Mann said. “The goal was to give them some action against the competition next week. And with (eight) preseason games in Ottawa, they’ll see plenty of action there to see if they’re on the roster for the night. open or not.

(Photo by Shane Pinto: Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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