Shane Pinto, 'clown' Jake Sanderson eager to play for Senators in rookie tournament

Ottawa Senators centre Shane Pinto skates during warm-up in Ottawa earlier in the year. (CP)

Even in a practice session with a mixed array of NHL prospects, the special quality of Jake Sanderson shines through. 

His skating, smooth feet, the hands (one of which has had recent surgeries on), the anticipation of the puck and where the play is headed – is all off the charts. 

“It’s like he doesn’t even try when he skates, but he flies,” says fellow Senators rookie and UND alum Shane Pinto.

Sanderson and Pinto took part in Thursday’s rookie skate with the Ottawa Senators and will both be in the lineup for Game 1 of a three-game rookie series in Buffalo, which begins Friday. 

General manager Pierre Dorion and his staff will decide after that if the two former University of North Dakota stars will participate in more than one game. At this point, it seems unlikely. 

Troy Mann, the head coach of the Belleville Senators, will coach the rookies. 

Speaking to reporters after the skate, Sanderson said he is excited to see his first game action with Ottawa, even if it is in a rookie tournament. Sanderson had his NCAA season cut short by a left hand injury last spring, re-injured it in off-ice training and had to have a second surgery to repair tendon damage. 

“The hand is good, it feels really good,” Sanderson said. 

There has been a lot of progress in his hand strength the past month, he added. Only three weeks ago did it truly come around. 

“I started skating with a stick at the start of August,” Sanderson says. “And my hand and arm were a little weak, but once I got to strengthen that I felt more confident at each practice –  probably three weeks ago I felt 100 per cent, good to go.”

Drafted by the Senators fifth overall in 2020, Sanderson played just 23 games with UND last season and was unable to suit up for the Senators because of the hand injury. He did use his good hand to sign a three-year, entry level contract with the Sens in late March. 

The injury and subsequent re-injury and rehabilitation were the focus of the defenceman’s entire off-season, which he usually spends in Whitefish, Montana, skating, cycling and fly fishing. On the fishing front, Sanderson said he had one session dropping a line off a dock in the Missouri River, but missed doing the two-day fly-fishing sessions he usually has with his two brothers, Ben and Sawyer.

“It’s been a long summer for me, I’m not going to lie,” Sanderson says. “There have been a lot of ups and downs with my hand, and not being able to skate all summer. So, I am so blessed and relieved to be back on the ice with the guys and it’s kind of weird to say that we’re playing a game tomorrow – I couldn’t be more excited.”

Following the practice session, the Senators rookies boarded a bus for Buffalo, an experience that Sanderson hoped would help him bond with his new teammates, many of whom don’t have Sanderson’s pedigree and will be trying to make an impression this weekend. 

Sanderson was skating with Tomas Hamara, a 2022 draft pick from Finland, and felt the two have already experienced good “chemistry.”

It’s no big deal for the left-shooting Sanderson to play on the right side, with Hamara on the left, Sanderson said. 

“I’ve kind of been thrown in different positions in my life, so playing the right side is not bad.”

‘Clown’ Sanderson

Sanderson isn’t the only prized rookie coming off an injury. Pinto, who started last season with the Senators and displayed a remarkable two-way game for a rookie centre, suffered a shoulder injury in November and did not see action again.

Meanwhile, fellow centre Ridly Greig, who played an important role for Team Canada at the recent world juniors event in Edmonton, will go to Buffalo but may or may not see action, as he recovers from a shoulder injury suffered at the WJC.

As it happens, those three young players will be roommates in Ottawa this season, assuming all three make the big club. Greig gets the basement. Pinto says there isn’t much doubt which of the three has the culinary chops. 

“Jake can’t cook and I haven’t seen Ridder cook yet, so it’s me right now,” Pinto says. 

Pinto, who was a teammate of Sanderson for two seasons (2019-2021), will be a great source of material when it comes to Sanderson stories. A colourful and confident speaker, Pinto allows that Senators fans are going love Sanderson’s talent - “his play will take care of itself,” but he reminds us that Jake is still a 20-year-old kid. (Pinto is pushing 22!)

Asked about Sanderson’s renowned “maturity,” Pinto bursts into laughter, before elaborating.

“When it comes to the rink, he’s a pro and he’s mature,” Pinto says. “But when he’s off the ice, he’s a clown. He’ll probably chirp me, too, but it’s OK.”

Regarding his own recovery, Pinto says he is looking forward to taking and giving some hits with his shoulder, to test it out, but feels it has been a great summer of conditioning and rehab. 

Sanderson and Pinto both look forward to playing in the rookie tournament as a way to get ready for the main camp next week. 

“I’m just ready to play hockey,” Pinto says. “It’s been a long time for me, it’s going to be good for me and I’m excited for it.”


Brassard and Dal Colle invited to camp

Prior to the rookie skate, GM Pierre Dorion called in reporters to announce that veterans Derick Brassard and Michael Dal Colle have been invited to training camp on PTOs. 

Brassard, 34, a former Senator who was on the 2017 Eastern Conference finalist team, split last season between Philadelphia and Edmonton. Dal Colle was in the New York Islanders system last season and formerly played for Senators head coach D.J. Smith with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. 

Those veterans join a much younger pro, Tyler Motte, who signed with Ottawa as a free agent on Wednesday. Motte, 27, spent most of last season with the Vancouver Canucks but moved to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline and was a good role player for the Rangers in the playoffs. 

Dorion says he likes the idea of adding Motte’s experience as a two-way player and penalty killer, particularly since the Senators lost veteran winger Connor Brown to the Washington Capitals in the off-season. 

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