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Binghamton buzzing over return to AHL playoffs

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Binghamton Senators goaltender Barry Brust will find himself in familiar surroundings during the first two games of their AHL playoff series against the Manchester Monarchs. Brust, a former L.A. Kings farmhand, previously played parts of two seasons in Manchester (Just Sports Photography).
There is no time like playoff time.


Just ask the good hockey fans of Binghamton, N.Y., who've been watching and waiting for six years for the moment that is about to arrive at Broome County Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Their beloved Senators make their return to the American Hockey League's post-season on Wednesday night, facing off against the Monarchs in Manchester, N.H., in the opener of a best-of-seven first-round series. Game 2 is Thursday night in Manchester, then the series shifts to Binghamton for Game 3 on Sunday night.

And what a scene the first B-Sens home playoff game since 2005 figures to be.

"I told these guys the other day that there's nothing better, when you're in the hockey business, than this time of year — the playoffs," said Tom Mitchell, the B-Sens' executive vice-president of operations and part owner, whose connection to hockey in Binghamton spans 16 years and three AHL franchises. "It was that way when I played and it's still that way. It's been that way every minute I've been in this game.

"It's been a long grind (to get back to the playoffs), not only for the ownership but for the fans and for the whole community. We have an opportunity here to really bring some recognition to this organization and our community again. It's been  a long time in coming. I'm pretty excited about it.   I could skate right through the end of the rink right now."

That might also sum up the feelings of the Binghamton players, who have been itching to dive into the post-season since nailing down their playoff berth a week ago.

"We're definitely excited," B-Sens captain Ryan Keller told reporters in Binghamton before boarding the bus for Manchester. "Since the moment we clinched, everybody has marked this date on their calendar ... It's hard not to have fun (in the playoffs). There's not many teams that are coming in to practice today and working hard, so that's fun in itself. The weather's nice and people are still thinking about hockey. That's enough said right there."

Added head coach Kurt Kleinendorst: "It's the honeymoon period all over again. This is the time when there are no pressures and everyone feels good about themselves. But the reality starts all over again tomorrow."

It has been anything but an easy road to get to this point. Since mid-February, when the parent Senators began shedding veterans in trades and looked to the farm to fill the void. That left the B-Sens scratching and clawing to hold a playoff position without stalwarts such as Bobby Butler, Colin Greening and Erik Condra, who spent most of the final seven weeks of the season in Ottawa. Defencemen Andre Benoit, Derek Smith and Patrick Wiercioch also took their turns with the big club.

"Since the moment we clinched, everybody has marked this date on their calendar ... It's hard not to have fun (in the playoffs). There's not many teams that are coming in to practice today and working hard, so that's fun in itself. The weather's nice and people are still thinking about hockey. That's enough said right there." - Ryan Keller
But with a patchwork lineup dotted with several East Coast Hockey League players, the B-Sens persevered and made it to the finish line. The reward came Sunday, when the Senators shipped eight players back to Binghamton when their National Hockey League season concluded.

"This has been a special group here this year," said Mitchell. "They worked their (butts) off. They've come back and won games when it looked like things were out of sight and we've beaten teams with better records than us. I think it's a testament to the job they've done.

"And the fans here are pretty sharp hockey fans. They've been watching it for a long time and I think they appreciate that. The organization has turned things around and is heading in the right direction."

Mitchell is quick to credit the parent club in Ottawa for building the kind of organizational depth that is now benefiting its primary affiliate in a major way.

"What has happened now is we're starting to see the results of Bryan's (Sens general manager Murray) drafting and finding decent players for our team down here," he said. "You've got to have two types of players. You've got to have guys that can go up there and help and you've got to have your development players in an environment where it's the proper environment for development and growth.

"I think this year, we've had that here. The coaches have done a great job — it's been the smoothest operation I've seen down here in a long time — and things are on the upswing."

Around the boards

B-Sens goaltender Barry Brust should be familiar with the surroundings for the first two games of the series. The former Los Angeles Kings farmhand previously spent parts of two seasons in Manchester. "Barry's a pro," Kleinendorst said when asked how Brust will handle the road environment. "You don't need to feed him anything. He knows what's going on. I've been back in buildings where I had played. It's fun and I think he's going to enjoy it, I really do" ... All Binghamton playoff games will be broadcast locally on the Team 1200 radio. Pay-per-view webcasts are also available at www.ahllive.com ... Team Canada made it official today, naming Ottawa centre Jason Spezza to its team for the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Slovakia, while Team USA formally added Sens forward Ryan Shannon to its squad.

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