Strauss Mann is coming in with fresh eyes

Back in the United States after a professional season abroad, the goaltender is ready for a fresh start in a new league.

Looking at the sheer number of goaltenders held in the San Jose Sharks’ pipeline, the second half of the cliché phrase “too much of a good thing” will garner different responses, depending on who you talk to (for me personally, it’s a great thing). Despite the competition, his performance in development camp, the 2022 Rookie Faceoff and now training camp, rookie Strauss Mann is making himself known to the franchise and fans alike.

Prior to signing with the organization, Mann spent last season with Skellefteå AIK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Sweden’s top-tier men’s league, and the three seasons before that with the University of Michigan. Though a difference in leagues means a change of scenery — both in the culture of the location and the people in the sport itself — Mann took the change well, even going so far as to say the experience helped him understand what some of his Sharks teammates were experiencing at camp.

I can kind of relate to everyone in certain ways, the European guys, the American guys. It was good meeting guys like Eks and the two young Swedish guys who just got drafted [at development camp] because we played each other a little bit this year,” said Mann. “We know the Swedish lifestyle, so it’s been a good experience traveling around the world a bit.”

In terms of international competition, Mann joined Team USA at the beginning of the year for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, sporting a .945 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.85 goals against average (GAA) through two games. In may, Mann joined Team USA once again for the IIHF World Championship in Finland, where he posted a .888 SV%, 2.42 GAA and 3-1-0 record.

Establishing the framework

Development camp was the first stepping stone in preparing for the upcoming season. Having attended the New York Islanders’ camp a few years prior, Mann was no stranger to professional camps, instead using it as an opportunity to get used to the coaches — goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov, in particular.

“It was good to work with Nabby and go over some of the things we had talked about previously on the phone and get into doing that in person. I also kind of have a sense now for he likes to run drills, so it’s just good to kind of get that first step out of the way.”

A rather niche highlight of development camp was the infamous 3-on-3 all-goaltenders scrimmage on the second day. While there may not be an implementation of the game format by the NHL anytime soon, Mann said that it was a solid way to open practice.

“I think it’s mainly [Nabby] wanting to work on stick handling skills, but also just a fun way to start practice. It had been a long week and we needed something to kind of get our spirits up at the start of the day, so that was definitely fun.”

Unfortunately, there were no scrimmages of the sort during the Rookie Faceoff, though he agreed with the sentiment that they should try doing it again sometime soon.

Getting to work

“There are a lot of new faces, it’s pretty different, but you get to feel out the environment. Now coming back a second time around, you get to know guys a little bit better and get past that surface level.”

While development camp and the 2022 Rookie Faceoff were roughly the same amount of time, it was the first time Sharks prospects were able to get a feel of opposing teams as a group. For Mann, this was an opportunity to get to know possible future teammates and start working together on the ice.

“It shows in the games — we’re playing like a team even though we’ve been together technically a few days, yet guys just feel pretty comfortable around each other, which is nice.”

Acquainting himself with teammates certainly paid off during the Rookie Faceoff, with the team sporting a 2-1 record through the whole weekend.

Though there isn’t much video available in regards to Mann’s play as a Shark quite yet, the elements of his game he talks about focusing on are evident in clips from past seasons.

“I like to think I’m quick on my feet, trying to beat passes on my feet and be good at positionally to make the reaction a little bit easier. Trying to read the game well and be the backstop for my team that they know will be there.”

More often than not, Mann uses his ability to read games well along with his speed to make the kinds of saves that feel impossible, almost supernatural at times. A great example is this dash across the crease to make the save during a 5-on-3 penalty kill effort with Skellefteå:

With a work ethic and skill like that, it’s no surprise he was such a mainstay for both the University of Michigan and Skellefteå. There’s no doubt he has a lot of potential coming into San Jose, and will be a crucial figure for the organization, no matter which club he lands with among the surplus of netminders.

Perhaps Mann himself characterizes his position as goaltender best: “I’ll stop the shots I’m supposed to, but bail them out when they need it.”

Getting to know Strauss Mann

If you had to characterize your game with a dog, which would it be?

Maybe a chihuahua? Like, undersized, but they’ve just got an energy and presence, which is like me when I’m in net.

First impressions of the Bay Area?

It seems like there’s an amazing place to hike every mile or so, which is awesome. I love to get outside and into the outdoors, so I’m excited to keep exploring a bit.

I think that’s what makes this place pretty special — you see all the alums come back and live here, and it’s obviously for a reason. It’s a beautiful place to live. Being in Northern Sweden last year where they had no sunlight, I definitely appreciate it a lot more waking up every morning and getting that Vitamin D. It just puts you in a good mood and makes things a little more fun when you get to the rink.

(Writer’s Note: It was reasonably gloomy and rained briefly in San Jose for the duration of the Rookie Faceoff, but I promise the weather is sunny here, as Mann was saying).

Have you connected with anyone through camp(s) so far?

Not only the guys, but the staff too. I think it’s really cool to come in and meet the strength staff and everyone and pick their brains a bit — everyone’s got such different opinions on things and everyone’s very smart.

With the guys, I met a lot of good people, met a lot of new faces. Jasper Weatherby and I were roommates for development camp, so it was good getting to know him a bit. We’re both ‘98 birth year guys, so we’re a bit older and kind of relate to each other in that way. It was good getting to know him, as well as a couple of other guys.

Lastly, we’ve seen the new gear setup. How’s the mask coming along?

The design is finished. I kind of left that one a little bit more up to Dave Art, but it should be pretty cool, he does a good job. I haven’t seen the painted picture yet, but I’ve seen the design, so hopefully that will happen in the next few weeks.