|Robin Lehner's standout play for the Binghamton Senators earned him the most valuable player award in the Calder Cup playoffs and helped push his development ((Photo by Darren Abate/pressphotointl.com/AHL). |
One day later, the celebrations are still very much in the air.
And not just in Binghamton, N.Y., where a title-starved city will honour their Senators tonight as its first champions in 38 years of professional hockey. The B-Sens earned that distinction Tuesday night in Houston, edging the Aeros 3-2 to claim the Calder Cup as kings of the American Hockey League.
After arriving home from Texas earlier this afternoon -- and bringing the championship trophy to the hospital room of assistant coach Steve Stirling, who underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery on Sunday -- the B-Sens were to be the guests of honour in a parade through downtown Binghamton this evening.
Beyond the obvious joy and pride in the Southern Tier, there is also a sense of true satisfaction across the Ottawa Senators organization. When the current regime headed up by Bryan Murray took over the on-ice operations in Binghamton three years ago, the farm was almost barren in terms of young talent. Now it's a championship outfit teeming with young prospects.
But to hear Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray tell it, this was no quick fix.
"Our lack of depth and lack of almost everything down there when we (first) got here was not recognized as much," said Murray, who oversees the hockey operations in Binghamton. "Sometimes fans in that league assume you can rebuild quickly and you can't. You have to have a pipeline. You have to have it in the (National Hockey League) and you have to have it in the American league. You have to be turning guys pro every year that can play there, so it does take a little time. (But) I think we knew we could do it."
Now the Senators can look at young prospects such as goaltender Robin Lehner
, along with forwards Bobby Butler
, Erik Condra
, Colin Greening
and Zack Smith
, and see a much brighter future ahead. But beyond the talent, it's now also a group that has proven it can excel when the stakes are at their highest in the playoffs.
"If you want to win a Stanley Cup, you know you're going to have to draw on your own (experience)," said Murray. "Ten seconds left, up by a goal, are they going to reach back and remember last night? I think that they probably will. Winning breeds winning and certainly, last night should help the organization."
Nobody's star shone brighter in the Calder Cup playoffs than Lehner, who took over as the B-Sens' starter with his team in a 3-1 hole against the Manchester Monarchs in the opening round. The 19-year-old Swedish stopper recorded three straight overtime triumphs — stopping a penalty shot in the extra session of Game 6 — and never looked back en route to earning playoff most valuable player honours.
"Our drafting and our free-agent signing of young guys like Bobby Butler has added a lot of depth to the organization, which creates competition. Now we’ve got it down there (in Binghamton) and I hope people see we have players coming, that we can do the same job up top in the NHL. But you have to create a certain culture and that culture was created down there and it’ll translate to us in the NHL. For our sake and for Bryan’s sake, I hope (fans) believe this wasn’t a fluke, that we did this the right way and we can continue to do it." - Tim Murray
Lehner, who posted a 14-4 record, 2.10 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, became only the fourth teenage to backstop a Calder Cup champion, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Carey Price and Patrick Roy.
"What he showed in the playoffs is that he's one of the top young goalies around," said Murray. "He was the best goalie in (every) series we played. He's one of only four goalies to win the American league championship at that age. He's in pretty good company and it just validates our picking him in the second round (of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, 46th overall) and it looks like he's on the right track as far as his development arc is concerned.
"I certainly hope that this really helps him. I hope it really helps his confidence. He was put in pressure situations (and thrived). He's got a great future. In talking to him after (Tuesday's) game, certainly he thinks this really helped him and really prepared him for what's to come in the future."
Butler also reinforced his growing reputation as a player with a real nose for the net. Between Binghamton and Ottawa this season, the 24-year-old Butler produced 45 goals. That total included 13 in the post-season, one shy of the AHL playoff record for rookies.
"What he's solidified in our minds is that he's a goal scorer," said Murray. "We thought he was a goal scorer, but when you do it in big games in the playoffs as a first-year pro ... that's a lot of goals in a lot of games. With his performance, we have to assume he's a goal scorer because that's what he showed us this year."
Now the test is to have the success in Binghamton translate to the big club. But the Senators are confident that the winning can indeed continue in the years ahead.
"Our drafting and our free-agent signing of young guys like Bobby Butler
have added a lot of depth to the organization, which creates competition," said Murray. "Now we’ve got it down there (in Binghamton) and I hope people see we have players coming, that we can do the same job up top in the NHL.
"But you have to create a certain culture and that culture was created down there and it’ll translate to us in the NHL. For our sake and for Bryan’s sake, I hope (fans) believe this wasn’t a fluke, that we did this the right way and we can continue to do it."