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Road to Calder Cup final never easy for B-Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Corey Locke and the Binghamton Senators travelled a long road to reach the first Calder Cup final in franchise history. The B-Sens will face either Hamilton or Houston for the AHL title (Just Sports Photography).

Perhaps it was fitting that the Binghamton Senators had to work a little bit extra to make some franchise history.

For most of this rollercoaster ride of an American Hockey League season, it's been their calling card. No mountain has been too steep to climb, no obstacle too difficult to overcome. Though whatever adversity was thrown in front of them, the B-Sens kept soldiering on.

Now Binghamton has marched its way into the first Calder Cup final in franchise history, thanks to a sweep of the Charlotte Checkers in the Eastern Conference final. But the result, as always, only tells part of the story. Let's just say that anyone who knows this team's story wasn't the least bit surprised it took overtime to finally subdue the Checkers on Wednesday night.

Now wonder, then, that when captain Ryan Keller's quick shot hit the back of the net 13:05 into the extra session, it set off a wild celebration at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. For a team that had to scratch and claw its way into the AHL playoffs, it was the sweetest of successes. And for the 4,174 hockey faithful, it's been a long time in coming.

With their series-clinching victory over the Checkers, the B-Sens advanced to the Calder Cup final for the first time in franchise history. They'll also be only the second Binghamton-based team to play for the AHL championship, following in the footsteps of the 1981-82 Whalers, who fell to the New Brunswick Hawks in five games. The B-Sens, since their birth in 2002, have never played for the league title until now.

Not exactly what anyone around the league expected when Binghamton, which finished fifth in the East Division, squeezed into the post-seson as a crossover team in the Atlantic Division. The B-Sens fell behind 3-1 in the opening round against the Manchester Monarchs, then became the first team in league history to win Game 5, 6 and 7 in overtime to advance.

Five games in that opening round were decided in overtime, but the B-Sens avoided the extra session through a six-game division final triumph over the Portland Pirates and three dominating wins to open the series with Charlotte. But OT reared its head one more time before Binghamton could claim its spot in the final.

"We always make things interesting," Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst said after Wednesday's clincher. "I told the guys it was a gutsy effort. It really was. But I'm not one bit surprised with the outcome. That seems to be the way we've done it.

"You don't get to this point if you don't have character in your locker room. You don't get to this point if you don't have resiliency in your locker room. You don't get to this point if you can't deal with adversity. We've got a group that can handle pretty much anything."

"You don't get to this point if you don't have character in your locker room. You don't get to this point if you don't have resiliency in your locker room. You don't get to this point if you can't deal with adversity. We've got a group that can handle pretty much anything." - Kurt Kleinendorst
Surely, the B-Sens learned plenty about that during the tension-filled final weeks of the regular season, when they found their way into the playoffs despite losing top players such as Zack Smith, Bobby Butler, Colin Greening and Erik Condra to lengthy callups in Ottawa. The Manchester series steeled that nerve even more.

"This is huge for us," Binghamton goaltender Robin Lehner, who's posted a 10-2 record in the post-season, told reporters Wednesday night. "We took the last spot in the playoffs. We battled through some hard teams. We battled through Manchester ... we were down 3-1 and we came back. So many good things, we can take from this. This is huge for us and to do this in four games against (Charlotte) is even better."

Now the wait begins for the Calder Cup final. The Houston Aeros, who had a shot at a sweep of their own in the Western Conference final, were blown out 8-1 by the Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday night. Game 5 is Friday night at Copps Coliseum in Steeltown with Game 6, if needed, slated for Sunday at Houston's Toyota Center.

A win by the Aeros last night likely would have meant a weekend start for the final. But the B-Sens, whose injury list still remains significant, will gladly take the break.

"It buys us some time," said Kleinendorst. "Otherwise, (the final) was going start on Saturday, so we would have been travelling (today). Honestly, any little extra break that you can get at this time of year is beneficial. It's a good thing. For me, it's not about having teams beat up on each other or do we have a preference who we play. For me, my preference is just to get a little extra time.

"And there's no guarantee Houston is going to get through that (series). You just never know. Hamilton is a very good team at home. If they win the next one, that means it's going at least six. We've come back from behind in a series before. Other teams can do it, too."



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