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Catching up with B-Devils coach Mark Dennehy

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NEWARK (WBNG) -- With the AHL season set to begin February 5, the Binghamton Devils are beginning to arrive in Newark where the team will play the upcoming season.

Coach Mark Dennehy said when he learned they would be playing in New Jersey instead of Binghamton he was disappointed, but this season is about being flexible.

"Especially with the way the season ended last year, we'd love to come back to Floyd (Visions Veterans Memorial Arena) and pick up where we left off, but after not having hockey for ten months I'm also glad to be back playing," he said.

Dennehy said one of the benefits of playing in Newark this season is the proximity to the taxi squad, which consists of 4-6 players.

"Hopefully we can move guys in and out of that taxi squad and give some of the younger guys, of which there are many now, we're back being pretty young again, we can give them experience with the big club," he said.

So far, the New Jersey Devils have three B-Devils from last year's roster on the taxi squad, including forwards Nick Merkley and Mikhail Maltsev, and goalie Gilles Senn.

Taxi squad members are not allowed to practice with the AHL team.

Mike McLeod, Nate Bastian, Yegor Sharangovich, Janne Kuokkanen, Jesper Boqvist and Matt Tennyson all made the Devils roster after spending a big portion of the previous season in Binghamton.

"They're kind of like your sons," said Dennehy. "When you look at the guys who started the season up...there's a lot that's been invested in those guys. To start the season in the NHL is a big deal."

Dennehy spoke specifically about Sharangovich, calling him "the story of camp."

The 22-year-old forward from Belarus had 25 points in Binghamton across 57 games during the 2019-20 season, the majority of his points coming during the final stretch.

With the hockey hiatus in the U.S., he spent months competing in the KHL where he had a standout season for the Dinamo Minsk, tallying 17 goals across 34 games.

"I'd say Yegor's development was probably normal," said Dennehy. "It takes awhile for the younger players to get acclimated to the level of play (in the AHL) and to gain that type of confidence...For Yegor it was that second half of last year where everything sort of clicked and he started playing with more confidence."

As for B-Devils training camp, Dennehy said it's slated to begin January 25.

Following a memorable season which came to an abrupt end amid a seven-game win streak, Dennehy said the winning culture the team cultivated is something he hopes will carry on.

"Even though development is the main goal of the American Hockey League, part of development is learning how to win," he said.

Dennehy said this season will be a test for players mentally, especially without having fans in attendance.

"Can our guys keep it inside the glass and not be distracted by the lack of fans? It really matters what happens on the ice," he said.

Dennehy also mentioned there will be eyes on players and coaches at all times.

"Because we're in New Jersey, Tom Fitzgerald, Dan MacKinnon and their scouts, they're going to be watching practice they're going to be watching games," he said. "So if you thought you were being evaluated in Binghamton, it's probably three-fold in New Jersey."

As far as the team, Dennehy said they'll be young on defense, which is different from when he first arrived in Binghamton and the team was young up front.

"We'll have at least three rookies...really excited about the young D core," he said.

2019-20 captain Ben Street and fellow B-Devils veteran Brett Seney will return, two players Dennehy is excited to have back.

"Re-signing Ben is huge, it's like having a fourth coach out there," he said. "He's really a leader. Brett Seney is someone the fans will know, he's electric and all he's done at the AHL level is put up points."

Dennehy said he's also looking for some of the returners to make an impact.

"What is Marian Studenic's next jump? What about Fabian Zetterlund, young player last year who showed flashes of brilliance? Brandon Gignac coming off an injury last year," said Dennehy. "Listen, there's going to be opportunities here for guys, but that's the fun part of the American Hockey League."

The schedule and number of games the B-Devils will play has not yet been determined, but the minimum number is 24 games per team.

"I think everybody's happy to be playing, it's going to be a sprint," said Dennehy. "Three and a half, four months, and I think that the energy level will be there because of how much people missed hockey."

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Nicole Menner

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