|As they try to clinch their first Calder Cup tonight, the Binghamton Senators' thoughts are clearly with assistant coach Steve Stirling, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery on Sunday and didn't travel with the team to Houston (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
The opportunity to bring home the Calder Cup, one would think, should be incentive enough.
But the Binghamton Senators will be playing for something even bigger tonight, when they aim to close out the Houston Aeros in the American Hockey League's championship series. Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals is set for the Toyota Center in Houston (8:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200), with the B-Sens holding a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven affair.
Not far from mind for the B-Sens will be assistant coach Steve Stirling, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery on Sunday and didn't make the trip to Houston. Ottawa Senators goaltending coach Rick Wamsley will join head coach Kurt Kleinendorst on the bench for the remainder of the series.
As big as a win tonight would be for the B-Sens and the city of Binghamton, N.Y. — which has never produced a Calder Cup champ in 29 years of AHL participation — they'd love to win one for the guy known to everyone as "Stirls."
"We all know what this (game) means for a lot of reasons," Kleinendorst told reporters earlier today. "But right now, the biggest one is Stirls."
To a man, everyone in the Binghamton dressing room wants to get it done for Stirling.
"It means everything," B-Sens captain Ryan Keller told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
. "He's worked so hard. He's spent such long days at the rink preparing and making sure nothing comes as a surprise to us. Even off the ice, co-ordinating events, he'd make sure everybody knows what's going on.
"(Stirling) is a huge part to not only our on-ice performance, but off-ice, keeping things in control. It'd be a great feeling to be able to bring back that trophy for him."
Added defenceman Andre Benoit: "For sure, our thoughts are with him. He's a big part of our club. It's terrible to see what happened. We hear he's doing well, so we're happy to hear that. We definitely want to seal it tonight, so we can get home and bring the Cup to him."
After falling behind 2-1 in the series, the B-Sens gained the upper hand with back-to-back 3-0 and 4-2 victories last weekend at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton. In the latter game, Houston held a 43-27 edge in shots and goal. The B-Sens believe they still haven't seen the Aeros' best shot yet.
"It'll be the toughest one, for sure," Benoit told the Press & Sun-Bulletin
about the opportunity to get the clincher tonight. "They're fighting for their lives. They're going to come out hard. We'll have to match that and probably outwork them to get a win tonight. It's been a close series. Every game's been real tough, and I expect the same thing (tonight)."
If the Aeros stave off elimination this evening, then a seventh and deciding game would be played Thursday night at the Toyota Center (8:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). But the B-Sens don't want it to get to that.
"We can't look at this as we have two chances to get it done," said Keller. "We have to try to get it done tonight and realize this game is extremely important. If we're sitting there thinking we have another chance, we're not going to come out with a good effort tonight."Around the boards
Defenceman Jared Cowen
, who left Saturday's Game 5 in the first period with an upper body injury, took the morning skate but will be a pre-game decision tonight. If he can't go, either Patrick Wiercioch
or Craig Schira are set to draw into the lineup ... Benoit is the son-in-law of Wamsley, which creates a bit of a first tonight in Houston. "We've never had that (situation), but I think we're professional in that way," Benoit said of Wamsley, who'll oversee the defence in Stirling's absence. "It's going to be fine. It's going to be just like any other game. He's ran a bench before and he's coached in the NHL before, so it shouldn't be a problem."