2003-04 campaign just around the corner following
deep playoff run into late May
Can it possibly be that three and half months have passed
since the Binghamton Senators last stepped on the ice at the Broome
County Veterans Memorial Arena?
The 8-3 setback in Hamilton on May 22nd that ended the B-Sens'
inaugural season and sent the Bulldogs onto the Calder Cup finals
still seems fresh in my mind. I recall the overnight bus ride home
from Copps Coliseum and the sunny morning that followed.
Despite the grinding toll that the 98 games took on players, coaches,
and front office staff, there was still a gnawing emptiness that
the season had ended all too early.
But the playoff run that saw comeback after comeback on home ice
didn't tease fans as previous clubs loaded with potential had done.
These Sens thrilled the masses and the fans responded by making
the Arena one of the loudest and more despised venues by visiting
teams during the Calder Cup playoffs.
Were fans disappointed at the end of the season? Of course. Were
they teased by a team that in past years may have been labeled underachieving
for not going "all the way"? Hardly
Head Coach John Paddock squeezed every ounce out of most every
player before finally hitting a roadblock in the form of the more
talented Hamilton Bulldogs.
Though it took seven games on home ice before the Sens finally
tasted defeat in the post season, ask any fan if they'd received
their money's worth during April and May at the Arena. I feel confident
that the answer would be a resounding "Yes!".
While the off-season moved with lightning like quickness in the
front office, with sponsorship sales and season tickets moving briskly,
it surely dragged for fans that partied on the streets in downtown
Binghamton following each playoff home win last spring.
But now, we sit on the cusp of a new year as the club looks to
reach greater heights in its second season in the American Hockey
League. What can this club do for an encore?
One of the biggest keys in maintaining fan interest is leaving
them wanting for more. When talking with fans and business clients,
I reminisce that most every goal was attained last season. Incredibly,
falling short winning the city's first professional hockey championship
was one of the few downfalls in the city's return to the AHL after
a five-year absence.
To that end, the Calder Cup is a pretty big carrot dangling out
there to motivate this year's club and bring the fans back for more.
Rookie sensation Jason Spezza and captain Brian Pothier graduate
this season to full-time status in Ottawa while Binghamton's fortunes
may be impacted substantially by a pair of second players.
Goaltender Ray Emery (27 wins) and center Antoine Vermette (34
goals) lead the B-Sens into 2003-04 and the recent signing of crowd
favorite Dennis Bonvie should give fans plenty of reasons to get
behind this year's edition of the B-Sens.
With Spezza and Pothier earning their way to full-time employment
in Ottawa with strong showings in Binghamton a year ago, Emery and
Vermette may very well be the next in line when it comes to promotions
north of the border.
Bonvie, the AHL's all-time and single season penalty minute leader,
will never wow the crowd with his offensive skills. But he can influence
the game merely by his on-ice presence, whether it's barking at
enemy teams across the red line during pre-game warm-ups (one reason
to always be in the Arena by 6:15 on game nights) or take a player
or entire team off of their game with a well-timed check or calculated
scrap to energize the home fans.
Despite familiar faces from last year's division champions, turnover
will be evident. Career 500-point scores Brad Smyth and Bob Wren
have gone overseas as has Joe Murphy, who enjoyed a career year
in '02-'03 with the B-Sens. The acquisition of winger Denis Hamel
by Ottawa may fortify the Baby Sens' offensive attack in the coming
season and center Brooks Laich will have opportunity to offer scoring
up the middle following a 94-point campaign in junior hockey.
How will this club gel? Who will fill the gaps left by last year's
key members? Only time will tell at this point as the club sets
its sights on the three-game exhibition slate and then the regular
season opener at Philadelphia October 10th.
Following the Ottawa-Buffalo NHL contest in Binghamton September
19th, the B-Sens' camp will open at the Arena shortly thereafter.
Preseason contests follow versus Syracuse October 2nd, at Syracuse
October 4th, and on the road in Hershey October 5th.
Then it begins for real in the City of Brotherly Love on the 10th
Still, it seems like only yesterday as the fans bathed in the thrill
that is playoff hockey.
Here's to last year's memories and to future successes as the B-Sens
and the city of Binghamton pursue its first professional hockey