Casey Mittelstadt was in the midst of a stellar training camp at this time last year to begin the season as the Sabers’ top-line center after a productive 2020-21 finish.
An upper-body injury he sustained on opening night prevented Mittelstadt from realizing that potential for most of last season, which sidelined him for three separate stretches and limited him to 40 games and 19 points (6+13).
Mittelstadt found ways to make the best of his adversities, learned to stay patient while working his way back onto the ice, and learned what he could while watching games. He ended in memorable fashion, scoring in overtime in the season finale against Chicago.
With another productive summer under their belt, coaches and teammates are once again excited to see what Mittelstadt can do with a healthy season.
“If you want to get to know me, it’s nerve-wracking,” said Sabers coach Don Granato. “Because here’s a guy who put in the work and you want him to be rewarded for it.
“I just want him to stay healthy. I think he will, and we’re all going to see a much, much better version of him Casey Mittelstadt based not only on the work he’s been through but also on the experience he’s gained, some of which he’s just had to sit on the sidelines. Especially at that age you gain some experience.”
Video: TRAINING CAMP: Granato
Mittelstadt, still only 23, has come a long way to get to this point. He made the NHL straight out of his freshman season at the University of Minnesota and had played 114 games for Buffalo when he first joined Rochester midway through the 2019-20 season.
Mittelstadt came to the AHL with a positive attitude and made the most of his experience, developing the off-ice habits he maintained during the COVID-extended 2020 offseason. He remained patient as he spent the first half of the 2020/21 season in Taxi Command. After being named interim coach in March of this season, Granato began leaning on Mittelstadt in high-leverage situations. Mittelstadt responded with the most productive stretch of his career.
Kyle Okposo experienced the same effect from Mittelstadt in the last month of last season.
“It’s hard to play in this league when you’re missing half a season, especially when you’re injured, and trying to come back,” Okposo said in May. “If you really iso-cam him for the last 20 games, you’ve found that he’s been one of the best players on the ice every night. So we look forward to his big season next year.”
Jeff Skinner offered a similar sentiment on Monday.
“The majority of people don’t see the work that’s put into practice, and I think if you watch him practice he’s an effective player,” Skinner said. “…Having him back, having a full summer and seeing how he’s been out there in training so far is exciting I think for us. It should be exciting for everyone.”
As for Mittelstadt, he just takes his season day by day.
“Honestly, I’m not one to write numbers or set big goals,” he said. “I like to focus on everyday things. I find that doing the right things every day and eating well, sleeping well usually leads to good practices, and good practices lead to good games.
“That’s the plan for me. I’m not necessarily going to put anything on paper. I just want to go out there and do my best every time I touch the ice.”
Video: TRAINING CAMP: Mittelstadt
Here are more notes from Day 5 of the Sabers camp.
1. Granato shared an anecdote to illustrate the Sabers’ locker room competitiveness. The team installed a RapidShot virtual training system in the KeyBank Center, which records the results in a mobile app. Rasmus Dahlin held the high score until Mittelstadt defeated him.
“Dahlin later saw it on his phone and actually went back to break it and he has the record now,” Granato said. “According to the people who installed the machine, they’ve never seen such high scores, which is good.”
Is a RapidShot competition looming between former roommates Dahlin and Mittelstadt?
“I feel like there’s something about Ras that pisses me off more than everyone else, but I’m not sure why,” Mittelstadt said with a big smile. “…We both have a couple of blisters now. So maybe we’re going to take a little break, but we’ll be back soon.”
2. The players who traveled to Washington for Sunday’s preseason opener were given Monday off. The rest of the group attended a 90-minute session at the KeyBank Center.
The forward lines and defensive pairs alternated throughout practice, but the start of each drill looked like this:
53 Jeff Skinner-72 Days Thompson – 65 Linus Weissbach
71 Victor Olofsson – 37 Casey Mittelstadt – 21 Kyle Okposo
49 Filip Cederqvist – 17 Brandon Biro – 89 Alexander cloth
96 Anders Bjork – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Isak Rosen
23 Matthew Samuelsson – 26 Rasmus Dahlin
25 Owen power – 10 Henri Jokiharju
78 Jacob Bryson – 46 Ilya Lyubuskin
3. Skinner and Thompson were consistently paired together in the early days of camp, a trend Granato said he expects to continue. The two spent most of last season as linemates and both scored 30 goals.
“It’s pretty safe to say I see these guys sticking together,” Granato said. “There is chemistry there, but they work together. They develop strategies together between games and after training. So you really are dialed in. I see we have any number of people that could fit in there, chemical point of view, we’ll see.”
4. Granato said he could see several players on the right wing in addition to Skinner and Thompson. Alex Tuch and Victor Olofsson were both successful on this course last season.
For his part, Tuch said he feels comfortable playing in the full lineup.
“Every player on this team has different skills,” he said. “Different way of playing, different style. I don’t think it really changes my play style and when I play with others, their play style doesn’t change.”
He continued: “I feel like I have chemistry with a lot of different guys and I think we have a lot of depth so it makes it easy to really just be able to when the coach wants to mix the lines, can we do it the same way.”
Video: TRAINING CAMP: Cloth
5. The Sabers play their first home game of the preseason Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Craig Anderson He is expected to play at least part of the game online, Granato announced.
Read more about Anderson in our Day 2 diary.
Tickets for the game against the Flyers are available here. Fans can stream the game live on Sabers.com or hear Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray radio on WGR 550.