The kids are all right with the opportunity of their young hockey careers.
Cody Bass and Brian Lee started this season wearing Binghamton Senators jerseys. This time last week, Nick Foligno
appeared destined to finish the year with the Ottawa Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Instead, all three find themselves at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh today, every one of them expected to play an integral role in the Senators’ opening-round playoff series against the Penguins.
Overwhelming? That’s one way of putting it.
“It’s mind-blowing, it really is,” said Bass, a gritty forward who never dreamed he’d find himself in this position right now. “You grow up watching the Stanley Cup playoffs. I was sitting at home (in Owen Sound, Ont.) watching the team succeed last year in the playoffs.
“And now I’m sitting in the (Senators) dressing room ready to play. It’s pretty exciting.”
Bass, who made his National Hockey League debut back on Dec. 15, missed two months of action while recovering from foot surgery. But it turned out to be a blessing in one way – because he was on the Senators roster past the NHL trade deadline, he couldn’t be sent back to Binghamton.
Then when Chris Kelly, Daniel Alfredsson
and Mike Fisher all went down with injuries, Bass was pressed back into service. He contributed a goal and assist to an 8-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs last week that essentially clinched a playoff berth for the Senators.
“It was a huge confidence boost,” Bass, 21, said of getting the chance to play again. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I came back. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get into the lineup or not.
“But the first game in Boston, Bryan (head coach/general manager Murray) gave me a chance. The past couple of games here, he’s been playing me quite a bit. For the confidence, it’s huge, especially as a young kid.”
Murray and the Senators had hoped to insert Lee, a solid puck-moving defenceman, into their mix early in the new year. An ankle injury set that plan back a month but after Lee finally made his NHL debut on March 25 in Buffalo – one day before his 21st birthday – Murray made it clear the product of Moorhead, Minn., was here to stay.
Not that Lee expected any of this when he began the season in Binghamton.
“At the start of the year, I didn’t even think that far in advance,” he said. “I was just trying to make the team out of camp and when that didn’t happen, I went to Binghamton to work hard and improve myself as much as I could.
“Now, I’m thankful to be here and I’m going to follow the older guys’ lead. They tell me that playoffs is the season that really matters and really counts. I’m going to buy into that and follow their lead and hopefully follow it for a long time.”
Unlike his two “baby Sens” teammates, Foligno did start the season in Ottawa. But way back then, the Stanley Cup playoffs were the furthest thing from his mind.
“I was hoping,” said Foligno, 20. “It was so far away. At the beginning of the year, I was so excited to be on the team. I didn’t really care too much about what else was going on.
“But now that I’m here and they had the confidence to bring me back up, it’s a great feeling. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
Though he appeared in 45 Senators games this season, Foligno found himself back in Binghamton as recently as last week. But after Alfredsson and Fisher both exited last Thursday’s game in Toronto with injuries that will keep them out for the first round, Foligno was rushed back to Ottawa.
Now he’s excited to get a taste of the time of year his father, Mike, experienced several times during his NHL career in Buffalo and Toronto.
“He’s told me to have a great time,” he said. “I love this time of year. I remember in junior (with the Sudbury Wolves), I loved playoff time. I was in the playoffs every year I was in junior. Obviously, it’s not on this scale but I’m still used to the post-season and what it takes. I’m looking forward to it.”
For all three, indeed, it’s a moment they won’t soon forget.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Bass. “There’s nothing else like it, especially as a young player.”