By Danielle Catalano
The first face off of the 2008-09 American Hockey League season is only two days away, and Binghamton Senators head coach Cory Clouston is not hesitating to tell fans his goal for the club is to make the playoffs next April and that team chemistry and veteran leadership will be significant factors in helping the B-Sens get there.
“I had good discussions with our veteran players at the end of the season last year,” Clouston says. “We talked about leadership, stepping up, team atmosphere, character, skills, things we want to build on to improve our game to get to the playoffs.”
The upcoming regular season marks Clouston’s sophomore year with the team as well as his second year in the AHL. Previously, Clouston was the head coach for Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. Transitioning from amateur play to professional competition was “a little different” he says, as most of the players from last year’s corps were new to the club and the coaching staff was molding a new philosophy of success.
“Coming into Binghamton last year was like coming into an expansion-team environment,” he says. “You really can’t seek advice for something like that because it was a unique situation. A lot was going on. We had to tear apart the foundation to rebuild the structure. Also last year, we had only had three players returning—Glass, Bois, and Hennessy—where this year we have 14 guys returning to locker room. This is important because as we develop team chemistry, our veterans—[who are] already familiar with our formulas both on and off the ice and understand what we are trying to build here—push the younger players in the day-to-day functions, like no slacking in practice or workouts, yet still show professional respect, which is good for growth.
“What we absolutely do not want,” continues Clouston, “is to have our players worried about things changing [within the structure] each time they walk through the doors in the morning. You can always add to a structure, but you never want to take away from it. So the veteran presence also builds confidence and support for everyone around.”
Even with familiar faces practicing in the rink, the head coach refuses to put his guard down—especially not with the AHL schedule having the Senators play teams in the Western Conference they have never before faced and new parent club affiliations among their Eastern Conference foes. “You can’t get comfortable because then you get bored,” Clouston says, “and that’s when problems start. You can’t afford boredom when you want to make the playoffs.”
Instead, Clouston is stressing that his players focus on elevating their individual skill sets with a team mindset, regardless of how many years a player has been with the B-Sens. “We want to give our veterans the tools to improve and the answers they seek to get them to their personal goals,” Clouston says. “We want the whole team to develop organizationally. If we provide an environment that allows individual skills to advance, we get a stronger foundation. With a stronger foundation, you get a greater sense of team familiarity, and this makes the entire structure more solid.”