WHL file photo
It was the perfect way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday; running around Parliament Hill and the streets of downtown while attending a developmental camp for the Ottawa Senators.
That’s how Calgary Hitmen centre Matteo Gennaro spent his Canada Day.
Gennaro (20) flew out to the nation’s capital for the Sens’ developmental camp June 27 to July 3.
For Gennaro it was the third time he attended such a camp.
The Winnipeg Jets selected Gennaro in the seventh round, 203 overall during the 2015 NHL Entry draft in Sunrise, FL.
Each of the past two summers he attended the Jets’ developmental camp as well as their main camp late in the summer.
After he failed to reach an agreement with the Jets, he became a free agent and entered the draft process once again this summer.
This year, the draft proceeded and Gennaro was left sitting in the vast pool of other free agents undrafted.
“I wasn’t too shocked about what happened. I spoke with my agent ahead of time and he said it was going to be an unpredictable year. There were lots of overage players in the draft, so we didn’t expect anything,” said Gennaro. “We also had a really good feeling about getting invited to a camp afterwards anyways.”
It didn’t take very long for Gennaro to garner interest from NHL clubs, with good reason too.
Last season Gennaro generated the second-most offence for any team, registering 14.41 per cent of Hitmen points. He also excelled at five-on-five, scoring 60.0 per cent of his points while playing at even strength.
The Senators came calling with the best offer, inviting Gennaro to the developmental and rookie camp.
“Being a new face to them, my main goal was just to introduce myself to as many people as I could, have a positive attitude off the rink, show that I am a dedicated and caring individual, and when I got a chance to get on the ice I wanted to showcase my talents and show that I am a smart player” said Gennaro.
One of the new faces for Gennaro to acquaint himself with was Sens’ assistant general manager, Randy Lee.
Lee was on Sens T.V. prior to an exhibition game held at developmental camp and spoke a little about what the players were going through their week in the nation’s capital.
Historically developmental camps can be a week straight of hard skating sessions, but not in Ottawa.
Lee said that he wanted to challenge the players in camp, give them targets to strive for, and to focus on goal setting and on growth-orientated mindset.
At the beginning of camp Gennaro was provided with a journal and was encouraged to scribble down anything he deemed meaningful throughout the week. Bringing the notebook home to St. Albert, Gennaro has pages with lessons from the coaching and management staff along with notes from certain drills.
“I think it’s a pretty valuable thing to have. I took a few things from camp and wrote them down, now I have them with me as I continue training this summer,” said Gennaro.
The Sens’ camp was structured differently than the Jets’ camp was.
In Winnipeg days consisted of more mid-season practice formats. All the skaters were on the ice and being ran through drills.
In Ottawa, Gennaro said, there were a lot more skill sessions. Working with different coaches, the 40 players in camp were put through different drills each day; whether it would be working with a shooting coach one day or a figure skating coach to work on edge work the next, everyday was a new experience on the ice.
The players also took part in a two-period scrimmage and a three-on-three tournament to help break up the week.
Gennaro, who the Hitmen acquired via trade with the Prince Albert Raiders in January 2016, had the chance to play with some familiar faces. He got to share the ice with Parker Kelly, who he played with for half of the 2015-16 season as a member of the Prince Albert Raiders. Aside from Gennaro and Kelly there were five other WHL players invited, competing against some of Ottawa’s top prospects such as Thomas Chabot (18th overall in 2015 from the Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL), Colin White (21st overall in 2015 from the U.S. National Developmental Team) and Logan Brown (11thoverall in 2016 from the Windsor Spitfires, OHL).
Anytime a player steps on the ice against players competing for spots on a roster with the eyes of upper management staring down on them it can be a little intimidating, even if it was Gennaro’s third camp.
Luckily he has a cousin that is only a phone call away if Gennaro ever needs someone to bounce ideas off of.
Edmonton Oilers cult hero Fernando Pisani is a close cousin to Gennaro and the two remain in close contact.
“He’s great, he’s always there if I need any advice or someone’s brain to pick,” said Gennaro.
Gennaro, who led the Hitmen with 43 goals and 80 points in 69 games last season, had no problem getting to know the other players in camp, as the Senators organized plenty of team building activities.
One of the evenings featured a Chopped cook-off, where the players were given a certain amount of time to prepare a dish with selected ingredients.
Gennaro, who enjoys cooking in the offseason as a way to monitor his diet, was somewhat satisfied in his final product.
“I think it turned out okay. Our presentation wasn’t that great, but it tasted good enough for me,” said Gennaro about his summer chicken salad dish.
The main team-building event came on Canada Day in the form of a scavenger hunt.
With a reported 500,000 people around Parliament Hill celebrating Canada 150, the players were sent off around the Hill and downtown area looking for clues put in place by the team.
“It was incredibly busy with so many people out celebrating Canada Day, which made it more fun. Apparently we just missed Bono perform and the Prime Minister speak to the group outside,” said Gennaro. “There was a lot going on.”
For the Hitmen Gennaro was the latest player from last year’s crop that received invites to developmental camps.
Centre Mark Kastelic (13 goals, 35 points) attended the San Jose Sharks developmental camp and right-handed blue liner Vladislav Yeryomenko (six goals, 25 points) will attend the Toronto Maple Leafs camp this year.
Previously drafted Hitmen who have attended developmental camps were Jake Bean (13th overall in 2016 by the Carolina Hurricanes), Beck Malenstyn (145th overall in 2016 by the Washington Capitals), and Jakob Stukel (154th overall in 2016 by the Vancouver Canucks).
“It’s huge to see some of my former teammates get invited to NHL camps. To see Mark and Vlad head off to camps this year is great. I’m definitely rooting for them to do well,” said Gennaro, who played 97 games over a season and a half with the Hitmen. “It just shows that the CHL continues to develop NHL talent. I believe that Calgary is one of the most prestigious organizations to play for. The staff and management treat you so well; they give you everything you need to perform above and beyond your goals.”
Back home in St. Albert Gennaro has resumed his summer training schedule, logging long hours in the weight room. He plans to hit the ice towards the end of July to get his skating and puck handling back on track before rookie camp.
If Gennaro decides to attend his final Hitmen training camp, he will be more than ready when the Scotiabank Saddledome opens its doors in mid August.