BINGHAMTON, N.Y. —
|Rookie defenceman Mark Borowiecki got a head start on his pro hockey career by joining the Binghamton Senators for the Calder Cup playoff run right from Clarkson University (Just Sports Photography). |
On a sweltering summer day in June, it is perhaps the unlikeliest of scenarios in these parts.
But this hockey hotbed in the Southern Tier is alive with talk of the Calder Cup Finals, which will hit the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena with full force tonight. That's when the puck drops for a pivotal Game 3 between the Binghamton Senators and Houston Aeros (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200), with the American Hockey League's championship series all square at 1-1.
It's the first Calder Cup Finals game in this city since 1982, when the former Binghamton Whalers dropped a five-game series to the New Brunswick Hawks. But hockey hadn't made its way past May way back then, so tonight's affair marks yet another first for Binghamton hockey this spring.
"It’s definitely a change of pace," B-Sens rookie defenceman Mark Borowiecki said about the contrast between the ice inside the Broome County Arena and the soaring temperatures outside. "The ice isn’t really as good as it usually is. You’ve just got to try to stay focused. All your buddies back home are enjoying summer, but you’ve got a job to do here and you’ve got to enjoy it, too. You’ve got to come ready to work every day."
For Borowiecki, in particular, this entire playoff run has been entirely unexpected. The 21-year-old Kanata native, who signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators organization in March, finished out the regular season with the B-Sens but figured his hockey was done for the season.
He was finishing up some school work at nearby Clarkson University when the the B-Sens, with their defence corps depleted with a rash of injuries, put him back on an amateur tryout agreement during their opening-round series against the Manchester Monarchs. The 6-1, 189-pound Borowiecki has become a growing force on Binghamton blue line ever since.
"We were able to use him sparingly (at first)," said B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst. "When we put Boro in there, we were spoonfeeding him. Then it got to the point where we got through that first series and once the Portland series rolled around, he started taking on more minutes and he just thrived.
"Everybody (in the Senators organization) kept telling me how much I was going to like him. I heard that all year long ... ‘we’ve got this kid, we’ve got this kid.’ And he’s been great."
Borowiecki can't help grinning as he talks about his unexpected playoff ride.
"Not only didn’t I expect to be playing hockey in June, I definitely didn’t expect to be playing for the Calder Cup and getting a chance to contribute on the ice," he said. "It’s been a great experience for me and I’m just trying to enjoy every second of it.
"t’s almost like every single game, you feel more and more comfortable and you feel more confident. With hockey, there’s ups and downs and there’s always going to be a few setbacks. But the more experience you get, the more comfortable and confident you feel."
The experience should also set the 6-1, 189-pound blueliner up well for the fall, when he'll return to Binghamton for the 2011-12 season as anything but a completely green rookie.
"It gives me such a leg up," said Borowiecki. "There’s always that initial feeling out period, where you’re probably not going to play as well as you can, simply because it’s new situation you’re just trying to get a feel for things. I feel like I’ve already had that. Next year won’t feel like it’s my first year because I’ve already been here for so long."Around the boards
No changes in goal for Game 3 tonight. Robin Lehner
(11-3) makes his 15th straight post-season start for the B-Sens, while Matt Hackett (13-7) — who's started every Aeros playoff game this spring — is back between the pipes for Houston ... Only a handful of tickets remain for tonight, Game 4 on Friday (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) and Game 5 on Saturday (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) ... Forward Corey Locke and defenceman Andre Benoit are both previous Calder Cup champions, having earned rings with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007.