After getting drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round of the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Michael Sdao continues to get acquainted with the club.
The rising Princeton University men’s hockey senior defenseman recently completed a week at the team’s summer prospects camp, marking his third straight appearance at the annual session.
Taking part in the camp gave Sdao a chance to see how he measured up against many of the players he will compete with for a chance to fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League. For Sdao, skating with the Senators provided an opportunity to not only show off his skills with the puck, but to also prove he could hold his own when the physicality increased.
“There was a little bit of that,” said the 6’4, 230-pound Sdao, referring to the rough stuff that comes with the NHL game.
“It is a development camp. It’s all about player development and trying to improve your skills. The physical play is part of the game, so sometimes that does come up.”
Sdao is developing a comfort level with the organization as he got to skate again with his fellow prospects at the Bell Sensplex, the Senators’ training facility.
“It was great,” asserted Sdao, a native of Niwot, Colo.
“It was good to go back there and see some of my friends and roommates from past years. It was my third time in camp, so I have a really good relationship with a lot of the guys. It’s such a great city and great place to be.”
The players were tested throughout the camp with a series of intense workouts that were designed to help prepare the prospects for what they will face in the future.
“You definitely get a taste of what it’s like to be a pro,” said Sdao. “It’s intended to make you hungry and get to the next level, and that’s definitely what it’s done for me.”
Sdao’s play at Princeton as well as his performance at the development camps has opened plenty of eyes in the Senators’ front office.
“They’ve talked to me about my career after Princeton,” added Sdao, a starter from day one of his college career who has 39 points on 18 goals and 21 assists in 87 appearance for the Tigers.
“They expect me to be a big part of the organization down the line. They’re very engaged in their prospects. Every year, they’ve been able to make it to some of my games and I’m thankful for that.”
Sdao’s improvement can be credited, in large part, to the ice time he has earned at Princeton. After scoring nine points as a freshman and 10 the next year, Sdao emerged as the Tigers’ top blue-liner last season. He appeared in 30 games, scoring 10 goals and adding ten assists. Sdao also logged more minutes than any other Princeton defenseman and had more goals than any defender in ECAC Hockey.
“I got to play more minutes and develop my skills,” said Sdao, who was named as a first-team All-Ivy League and second-team All-ECACH pick last season.
“I also got some power play time and a lot of penalty-kill time. Just to play as much as I was able to play made it a great year.”
Last year didn’t end well for Sdao and the Tigers as they were eliminated by Yale in the first round of the ECACH Playoffs and ended the winter with an overall record of 9-16-7.
Sdao’s time in Ottawa coupled with his desire for a longer postseason run has increased his excitement for the upcoming season at Princeton which will start with scrimmages against the University of Guelph (Ontario) on October 19 and 20 at Hobey Baker Rink with regular season play commencing the next weekend with the Ivy League Shootout at Brown University.
“Everyone is ready to go,” said Sdao, who will be serving as assistant captain of the squad for a second straight season.
“You get through July and everyone is itching to get back to school. The way last season ended definitely left a bad taste in our mouths.”
While this will be Sdao’s last season at the college level, he hopes there is a lot of hockey ahead of him as he is determined to pursue a pro career. Over the past few years several Tiger players have found success in the NHL ranks, with George Parros and Kevin Westgarth having both gone from Princeton to the top of the hockey world as members of Stanley Cup champions.
Those two former Tigers needed to become handy with their fists to reach the NHL and gain a foothold. Sdao is hoping his skills will be his ticket, but understands there may be a time when he has to fight.
“That’s definitely part of the game,” said Sdao. “It’s something that happens and there’s a time and a place for it. You just have to know when it is. But I don’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player. There’s so much more to the game.”
Although Sdao’s focus is squarely on giving as much as he can to Princeton this winter, he acknowledges that the dream of becoming a professional is never far from his thoughts.
“That’s in the back of your mind all the time,” said Sdao. “You just want to watch and learn from what those guys are doing. Watching Hockey Night in Canada makes you wish that someday, that will be you.”