Changes Bring Renewed Hope to Binghamton
After the Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup in 2011, to say last season was a struggle would be an understatement. The team finished with a 29-40-5-2 record and a league low 65 points.
With the somwhat surprising resignation of head coach Kurt Kleinendorst in early May, Ottawa didn't waste much time in naming a successor. Former NHL'er and Ottawa assistant, Luke Richardson has taken the reigns. The team finished the exhibition season 3-0 and played well in all facets of the game.
Goaltender Robin Lehner, now 21-years-old, was named playoff MVP two seasons ago and had two of those wins in the exhibition season. He is looking to put a forgettable 2011-2012 season that saw him finish with a record of 13-22-1 and a 3.26 GAA in the AHL, behind him.
“Two years ago was one of the best times of my life,” he said. “Last year was a tough year for us, but right now I’m looking at this season. I worked hard during the summer and I'm a year older now too. I want to learn from my mistakes the last couple years, progress and get better. ”
Lehner also played a few games with the big club in Ottawa, compiling a 3-2 record and a .935 save percentage. One of his three wins was a shutout against the Boston Bruins in February.
“I learned a lot up there,” Lehner said of his time in Ottawa. “The same people that were up there are here now working with the team and that helps.”
“Our team struggled last year and maybe that got put on (Robin) a little too much,” said defenseman Patrick Wiercioch. “He's a world-class goaltender. If you ask anyone around the league who they don't wanna face on any given night, it's probably Robin Lehner. He's got that ability to be a 60-save shutout guy.”
“He's come in in great shape and with a great attitude,” said Richardson of Lehner. “He's a leader on this team even though he's in the net and got the mask on. He was a big part of this team and he's gonna have to be that again this year.”
It is clear that Lehner will be the number one goalie again this season, with Nathan Lawson likely pulling backup duty.
Along with Lehner having one more year of experience, so does the defensive core, which to a man, the players are expecting big things from.
“Always having a good D core is huge in this league,” said winger Mike Hoffman. “I think we have a lot more skill this year both offensively and defensively. If you have better forwards and better defense, you are going to be a better hockey club.”
Defensmen Eric Gryba said the team is bigger, stronger, and tougher than they were last year and drew comparisons to the championship team two years ago.
“When you have a tougher D core, guys pass that mentality on to one another and we are playing pretty well together.” He also said it helps having a defensive-minded coach behind the bench in Richardson.
“We're still young,” said defensive prospect Mark Borowiecki. “But we're hard-working and energetic and I think we have a good team. Boro was here last year and said he learned a lot from both his experience here as well as his time with Ottawa.
“Getting there makes you want to work harder to get back,” he said. “That's the goal and I think it helped me realize just how hard you have to work.”
This is definitely going to be a young squad in Binghamton this year, but with the addition of guys like Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone and Jakob Silfverberg, who have all proven themselves in other leagues, the offense should get a big boost.
Silfverberg who was a solid player in the Swedish Elite league, Stone coming in from the Western Canadian Junior League, J-G Pageau is from the Quebec Junior League.
“Of course I want to help the team win,” said Silfverberg. “That's what we're all working on, but I've been working on learning and building my confidence as well, I just want to improve every day.”
“I think we have a good mix here of young guys and guys that were here when they won the Calder Cup” said Zibanejad. “We've been good, obviously the preseason doesn't count, but it's good to get a habit of winning and find ways to win.”
Coach Luke Richardson has settled in nicely and echoed the words of Zibanejad about getting into the habit of winning. It is clear early that this team likes their new bench boss and they respect him, which is a tough thing for a rookie coach to earn, especially early in the season.
“We are gonna be big, fast and talented up front,” he said. “Our goaltending will be solid and so will our defense. Good defense leads to good offense; if you play aggressive and do things right, you'll have the puck on your stick more and that's our plan.”
He likes what he has seen so far from the players and said he has implemented systems that play to their strengths. When asked who has impressed him in camp so far, Richardson was ready with a pretty impressive list.
“Our goaltending is solid, with Robin, our defense with Andre Benoit coming back from his time in Europe and up front you are familiar with the Hoffman's, Cannone's, guys like that that are explosive and have experience.”
Richardson said he will obviously be nervous in his his first couple games and expects to make mistakes along the way, but said he will be learning along with everybody else.
Binghamton opens the season Saturday night against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m.
Roster moves: Yesterday the BSens assigned Defenseman Ben Blood and goaltender Marc Cheverie to the B-Sens' ECHL affiliate Elmira Jackals. That now leaves 27 players on Binghamton's roster. The Senators also announced that Ben Bishop has signed an AHL deal and will join the team in Binghamton.