While the 2004-05 season ended prematurely, it will surely be remembered as one of the best by Southern Tier hockey fans. It began way back in September as the latest edition of Sens began to trickle in to the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. With the NHL locked out some familiar faces were returning to Ottawa’s top minor-league affiliate including Jason Spezza, Brian Pothier, and Antoine Vermette.
Binghamton’s talent was evident from the outset as the team won the inaugural I-81 Puck Cup round-robin preseason tournament between the Syracuse Crunch, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Sens.
But the team struggled at the beginning of the regular season dropping a 6-2 decision in Albany on opening night. Binghamton remained an up-and-down team through November and December and found themselves in 4th place in the East Division with a 13-12-3-2 record on December 18th. Few could predict that the B-Sens were about to come to life and play some of the best hockey ever seen at the Arena. In a little more than a month, the Senators won 14 of 16 games, including a franchise-record nine-game winning streak from January 7th to January 26th. Binghamton took over first place in the division with a 27-14-3-2 record following a 5-4 win against Providence.
But the Senators followed up the long stretch of wins with a seven-game losing streak creating a tight race for the East Division championship. On Feb. 12th, the Senators beat Albany 7-0 to break out of their slump. From the Albany win until the end of the regular season Binghamton was 20-3-1-3 and one of the hottest teams in the league. The stretch included a 4-3 overtime win in Rochester which broke the Americans’ 17-game home winning streak. Binghamton also beat East Division runner-up Philadelphia twice and smoked the conference-champion Manchester Monarchs 7-2 on the road.
Another shot in the Sens’ arm came on March 2nd when tough guy Chris Neil decided to join the B-Sens in their pursuit of the Calder Cup. Neil brought 222 games of NHL experience along with a load of toughness to Binghamton and also sparked the line of Charlie Stephens and Pat Kavanagh to life. Kavanagh scored nine of his 14 goals and Stephens tallied 8 of his 21 assists this season in the 22 games after the arrival of Neil. Despite sharing the enforcer role with Neil, fan favorite Brian McGrattan continued his pursuit of the AHL’s single-season penalty minute record of 522 PIMs set by former B-Sen Dennis Bonvie when he played for the Hamilton Bulldogs during the 1996-97 season. The record fell before a near-capacity crowd at the Arena on April 8th with the Rochester Americans in town. McGrattan fought Amerks’ forward Sean McMorrow only 2:03 into the game becoming the single-season penalty minute king.
With Neil on board, the Senators were complete and steamed towards the East Division title in the last 20 games of the regular season while outscoring opponents 85 to 56 and recording 34 of a possible 40 points. It was by far the best quarter of Binghamton’s season as they earned 23 points in the first 20 games, 24 in the second quarter and 26 in the third 20-game set. On April 16th the Senators defeated Hershey 5-2 in the regular season finale as Denis Hamel recorded his second hat trick of the season. Following the game AHL officials were on hand to present the Senators with the F.G. Oke Trophy as the East Division champions. The team returned to the ice to a standing ovation following the Sens’ second division title in three seasons since AHL hockey returned to the Arena prior to the 2002-03 season.
With the team’s success came a slew of individual awards. On April 6th, rookie sniper Brandon Bochenski was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team joining stellar forwards Rene Bourque of Norfolk and Thomas Vanek of Rochester. The next day, Jason Spezza was named the center of the AHL First All-Star Team while defenseman Brian Pothier was an AHL Second All-Star Team selection after establishing a new professional career high for points (12 + 36 = 48).
Binghamton also sent four representatives to the AHL All-Star Classic for the first time in franchise history. Bochenski, Pothier and Anton Volchenkov suited up for the PlanetUSA squad while Jason Spezza made his second All-Star game appearance for the Canadian team. And as the season came to a conclusion, several franchise records began to fall. Denis Hamel set a new franchise record and personal career high with 39 goals while the team won 27 home games and 20 road games, the best numbers in the club’s three-year history.
Goalie play improved steadily throughout the season as well and Ray Emery was named the Koho AHL Goaltender of the Month for April after finishing the regular season on a seven-game winning streak. Emery’s 28 wins were a new career high and the B-Sens almost finished with two 20-game winners as Billy Thompson had a breakout year and finished with 19 wins.
Finally, on April 15th, Spezza was named the winner of the league’s most prestigious individual honor, the Les Cunningham Award as the league’s most valuable player. Spezza finished the season on a 20-game scoring streak, the longest in the league since the 1994-95 season.
His 117 points were the most the AHL had seen in seven years and he tallied 34 multiple-points games during the regular season including five four-point nights and a franchise record five-point effort on Feb. 19th in Manchester. Spezza was the first Les Cunningham Award winner in Binghamton since Don Biggs in 1993 and his playmaking skills will not soon be forgotten by the Binghamton hockey faithful.
The 2004-05 edition gave fans in Greater Binghamton much to cheer about throughout the winter and spring. Now the players will head their respective ways to relax and enjoy the summer, but come October you can bet that the Arena will be rocking again as the Senators begin their pursuit of the 2006 Calder Cup.
Be sure to stay tuned to www.binghamtonsenators.com
for updates on community appearances and the annual Binghamton Senators’ Open House in July.
Go Sens Go!