By Rob Tillotson,
Senators forward Gregg Johnson sat at his locker stall on Monday morning as he taped together the last remaining supply of his sticks. He threw some last pieces of equipment into his bag and said goodbyes to some teammates filtering out of the Binghamton Senators dressing room. The Senators season ended on Sunday evening, with a disappointing 5-4 loss to the last-place Albany River Rats. But many players, including Johnson, will leave town this week focusing on the positives the past seven months have provided, rather than fixating on the negatives.
“You can always take a positive,” said Johnson. “And especially the way we ended the season. We made a great run at the playoffs and we just fell short. But that’s a tribute to every guy in the locker room here; that nobody gave up and we made that late run and we almost got in after the start that we had. It’s a tribute to everyone.”
Johnson may have been spot on.
This is a club that dropped it first six games right out of the gate. They snuck in a win on October 30th, a 3-2 decision over the Lowell Lock Monsters, but went on to lose another three straight. On November 11th, one month and two-days into the season, the Senators sat in the basement of the East Division with a discomforting 1-7-1-1 record.
From there Binghamton won five of its next eight games, before skidding again from late November into early December. During that slide the Senators posted a 1-5-1-1 record and on the morning of December 16th they sat with a record of 7-15-2-2.
Since then the Senators were 28-22-2-2 and that includes a late January collapse which saw six straight losses, five of which to divisional opponents.
“As a team, (we showed) a lot of progress actually,” said Denis Hamel, the Senators’ captain and co-winner of this year’s Willie Marshall Award, given annually to the AHL player who amasses the most goals. “If you look at the beginning of the season; the first ten games we got two wins and we finished at almost .500.”
What stands out most about this year’s version of the Senators was their “never say die” attitude. And when asked about how that speaks to the professionalism of the players in the dressing room, the Senators spread the recognition around the room.
“I think it says a lot. We did get off to a rough start, but it showed a lot about our perseverance and the character of this team. We battled the whole year and made a heck of a run here at the end,” noted forward Joe Cullen.
“It says a lot about the guys. We labeled ourselves as a hard-working team,” added Charlie Stephens. “Give a lot of credit to the guys for the run that we made at the end of the year to give us a chance and be mathematically in it until three games left.”
And every guy in that room deserves credit. Not one of them quit at anytime during the team’s playoff push. They kept themselves alive and made it exciting up until the very end and for that I applaud.
Stephens admitted to the fact that being eliminated, last Wednesday with a 2-0 loss in Norfolk, could have had something to do with the team’s performance in the final three games.
“Obviously when you’re out, you’d like to hope you don’t play any different, but its definitely in the back of your mind that you’re not going to playoffs so it does change everybody’s game a little bit I guess.”
That being said, I still take nothing away from this team. They fought and fought…and fought. But could never recover from the awful start. For the first time in the franchise’s four-year history, the Senators have that sour taste of not being able to fight for the AHL’s holy grail this spring. And they’ll deal with that, all through the summer and up until the start of training camp next season, with hopes of providing some extra motivation.
“I think the one thing that you take from this season is the feeling of not making the playoffs, you know? And keep that in the back of your mind for next year and you’re going to work that much harder to make sure you don’t have the same feeling again,” remarked Stephens.
“I’m already bored,” a smiling Denis Hamel chirped in.
As a fan, it’s hard not to be disappointed about such an early ending to hockey season in Binghamton. But think of the three playoff appearances, including two division titles, in the organization’s first four seasons. You just can’t be there every year; no team is.
Take a page from Grant Potulny’s book. He, like the rest of his teammates, will look to regroup this summer and gear up for Game #1 of 80 in the fall.
“I’m going to spend a few weeks to relax and spend some time with my family. And then, I’m going to get after it again and get it ready to go.”
To the best fans in the AHL, enjoy the summer, the sunshine and the time off. Before you know it the chill will be back in the air and the sense of hockey right around the corner. You’ll be heading through the doors of the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena on opening night -- with a long, exciting push towards the 2007 Calder Cup ahead of you. The stands will be buzzing and as the sound of skate blades meet the ice, the puck will drop on yet another action-packed season of Binghamton Senators hockey. We’ll see you in October!