|Kurt Kleinendorst and the B-Sens face the Hamilton Bulldogs at Scotiabank Place on Sunday (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
The Binghamton Senators are doing it the old-fashioned way.
Hard work, head coach Kurt Kleinendorst believes, is the necessary foundation for a youthful group of B-Sens to grow into the kind of team that might contend for another Calder Cup crown in the American Hockey League.
"What we're trying to do is establish a strong work ethic," Kleinendorst said of the B-Sens, who make their annual visit to the nation's capital on Sunday to take on the Hamilton Bulldogs in a 1 p.m. contest at Scotiabank Place. "Like every other team, we want to be hard to play against. Really, for me, that's kind of always been the foundation for every team I've ever coached.
"Early on, you can throw all the structure you want into your game, but if you're not competing and playing hard ... it's not going to get you anywhere. What we try to do is establish the work ethic, the competitiveness within the group and complement that as we go along with our structure."
Binghamton carries a 5-8-1-1 into Sunday's matinee against the Bulldogs after dropping a 3-1 road decision to the Rochester Americans on Friday night. But while the B-Sens are officially the defending Calder Cup champions, Kleinendorst looks at a roster than underwent heavy off-season turnover and feels a sense of starting from scratch.
"We're a completely different team and it's not even fair to draw comparisons (with last year)," he said. "There really aren't any comparisons to draw here. This is a really, really young group, whereas last year we had a pretty strong core. We probably had six or seven solid, older veteran guys who were great leaders.
"We've got some leadership now, of course, but those seven guys are really down to two — (Tim) Conboy and (Mark) Parrish. They've done a great job, but (that number) kind of shows you how young we are."
The 34-year-old Parrish, whose hockey resume includes 722 National Hockey League games with the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres, has proven to be an inspired choice as B-Sens captain.
"It didn't take me too, too long to figure out that he was going to be our captain," said Kleinendorst. "He's played a lot of games in the NHL and it would be so easy for him to come down here and wear the 'C' and lead, but find ways to not lead. And he hasn't ever done that.
"If I ask the guys to work hard, then he's my hardest worker. If I challenge my guys to play with just a little bit more structure, he's the one playing with more structure. If I ask the guys to go the net, he'll be the first one going to the net. He's been great."
While it hasn't been smooth sailing just yet for this new group of B-Sens, Kleinendorst sees small steps being made each day. And that's exactly the direction he wants them heading.
"It's a process, for sure," he said. "We're coming along. We're improved over where we were back in October, that's for sure. We'd made some progress, but we still have a lot of progress to make."