Monday morning the American Hockey League canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 season and the 2020 AHL playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The season paused two months ago, during a time where the Binghamton Devils were on a hot streak. The team won 24 out of their last 31 games and won nine out of their last 10 games.
Sitting fourth in the North division, a postseason appearance and a playoff team back in Binghamton was on the horizon. Although the news wasn't unexpected, it was still disappointing for Head Coach Mark Dennehy.
"It's not anything that we didn't anticipate, but there's always the hope," said Dennehy. "Until they cancel it there's always the thought that, you know, we may come back. Disappointed for the players, first and foremost, because you know I'm tracking their training, the guys are still working out, and trying to stay as ready as they can."
Video: Binghamton Coach Mark Dennehy speaks to the media
"I'm disappointed for Binghamton. It's been awhile since they had a playoff team and not only do I think we were a playoff team, I thought we were a team that might be able to go deep," said Dennehy. "There is a core group of fans that eat it, drink it, live it, sleep it. So even when we weren't playing as well as we thought we were capable of, there was a level of support there."
Dennehy reflected on his team's performance this season, particularly from December until March where the team picked up wins after struggling at the start of the season.
"The numbers tell a pretty good story from December 12, until the end of the season, we were the best team in the American Hockey League," said Dennehy. "We finished the season on a seven game winning streak."
"I'd be remised if I didn't give the veteran group a huge tip of the cap. You now, we had an eight-game losing streak leading up to that change. And they embraced it, they very easily could have shut it down. So, you know, guys like Ben Street, Dakota Mermis, Julian Melchiori, Chris Conner, and I can go right on down that, Matt Tennyson, Mike Bailey, all those guys. They played a big role in our change."
Dennehy also discussed the impact one veteran in particular had on the organization, goaltender Cory Schneider who was with the club on and off throughout the 2019-20 campaign.
"Cory Schneider, who came down and came down with a great attitude, and worked on his game and got himself back to where everybody wants him to be. But in the meantime really helped our culture."
Binghamton's head coach was also impressed by the development of some of the team's younger players.
"I think it's a step in the right direction for this organization," said Dennehy. "If you look at the development of some of our younger players, especially towards the second half of their second year, we saw a lot of progress."
"You look at Mike McLeod and some of the adjustments he made to his game that may not have shown up statistically, but it allowed him to go back into the NHL and be even more effective than he was in the past. There's a lot of players, you go through the list of guys, Colton White, Brett Seney, he's still really only in his second year in the league. So, that's a pretty big list which is great. Look at Gilles Senn, who was only with us for this year and look at where he started in the rookie camp to where he ended. A lot of guys stepped up and improved as the season went on."
Dennehy also saw a change in culture with the Devils that has helped lead to the team's success this season.
"The objective of any coach coming into a situation where there wasn't success prior is to try to set a winning standard. Try to cultivate a winning culture," said Dennehy. "The best teams I've ever coached have a level of accountability that comes from the players, but that only works if the players understand what the true standard is, and they're willing to hold each other accountable to that. We'll have a pretty good number of players coming back that understand what that standard is."
Now that the uncertainty for a return is over, the team shifts its view towards the 2020-21 season. Although no one knows what the next season will entail, when it will start, or any number of questions surrounding it, Dennehy is having his players focus on their mental health as well as their physical health.
"I think one of the things we have to be really cognizant of in this environment is our mental health. So, I think working on your physical strength and condition - there are tried and true methods…how do you work on your mental toughness, how do you work on dealing with the monotony of being at home. We've got a lot of resources with the Devils, Amy Kimball is one of the first ones to come to my mind, as well as our development coaches that are working with these guys. It's an opportunity for them to get healthy physically."
"Take the time away from the game to get yourself mentally healthy, get yourself physically healthy, and then go about it no differently than you would before. Take that time and then get back after it."