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Listen To The Game

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 of October.

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 championship.

Bingamton Senators, One Stuart Street, Binghamton, NY 13901 T: 607, 722, SENS(7367) F: 607.722.7424
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