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Senators, Binghamton reaping benefits on farm

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
With Kurt Kleinendorst behind the bench, the Binghamton Senators have regained their playoff pedigree (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

They've already authored one of the most remarkable playoff comebacks in American Hockey League history.

But the Binghamton Senators are far from done yet. The B-Sens boarded the bus for Maine this morning, a seven-hour ride in front of them to the site of Game 1 of the Atlantic Division final against the Portland Pirates, set for Wednesday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center (7 p.m., Team 1200, ahllive.com).

For the loyal hockey fans of Binghamton, N.Y., it's the first foray into the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs since 2003. And one more sign that finally, after all these years, the good times are rolling once again in the Southern Tier. It's a good sign for not only the B-Sens and their supporters but also the parent Ottawa Senators, who saw the fruits of their labour on the farm begin to blossom during the 25 games of the National Hockey League season.

"When we got here (four years ago), there wasn't a lot," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin in reference to the state of affairs when the current Ottawa hockey management began overseeing the B-Sens. "It takes a long time to build up a base ... when you draft guys, usually it's two years before you see them turn pro, then it's another two years before you actually see them become good pros, so it's a long process.

"Now there's a pipeline. So when we do lose a guy — if one of our top six forwards decides to leave or go to greener pastures — we can fill that void. You saw that this year with the callups (to Ottawa). We have a choice of callups, depending on the situation and what the coach wants. In the past, there wasn't much of a choice."

This season, after shedding six veterans in trades — most of them for draft picks — the Senators had as many as eight Binghamton callups in their lineup over the last six weeks of the season. But young talent such as Bobby Butler, Colin Greening and Erik Condra thrived on the big stage, setting themselves up to possibly make the Senators roster out of training camp next fall.

On the flip side, the B-Sens had to battle their way into the playoffs with a roster often half-filled with ECHL talent. But Ottawa didn't abandon its primary affiliate, most notably sending Binghamton a forward who, at the time, appeared to be just a throw-in as part of the trade that sent defenceman Chris Campoli to the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Adding the under-18 team to his resume last year really intrigued me as far as going forward here, because we knew we were going to be young this year and probably also next year ... By hiring him, it really started up that process (of developing young talent). We thought Greening, Butler and Condra were prospects, but I'm not sure we thought we'd get as much out of them as we did this year. That says a lot about them, but it also says a lot about what the coaching staff has done there." - Tim Murray
Ask the B-Sens where they'd be without Ryan Potulny now. The veteran forward, a former Calder Cup winner with the Hamilton Bulldogs, leads all AHL playoff scorers with eight goals and 14 points through the first round. Included was the game-winner Saturday in Game 7 against the Manchester Monarchs. It capped a run of three straight overtime victories to wipe out a 3-1 deficit, something no AHL team had ever done before them.

Potulny's arrival in Binghamton was anything but an accident.

"With no disrespect to Ryan, (the Blackhawks) probably thought we were crazy that we were demanding that he be part of the trade (for Campoli)," said Murray. "But we wanted to make sure that we could help this team get into the playoffs, that we didn't completely decimate them with all the callups. We knew we were hurting the team ... but we did try to do a lot just to keep them in the mix.

"They ended up making it, so I think it's going to be great for the organization. They had to fight tooth and nail, they're a tight-knit team and I think down the road, when four or five of them are playing in Ottawa, that it's going to make Ottawa a better team because of what happened this year."

Murray credits head coach Kurt Kleinendorst, who brought AHL experience and a world under-18 gold medal with Team USA to the Binghamton bench, with providing the necessary steadying hand for a young team with a roster in constant flux.

"You don't usually get a chance to hire a guy like that," said Murray. "Adding the under-18 team to his resume last year really intrigued me as far as going forward here, because we knew we were going to be young this year and probably also next year ... By hiring him, it really started up that process (of developing young talent).

"We thought Greening, Butler and Condra were prospects, but I'm not sure we thought we'd get as much out of them as we did this year. That says a lot about them, but it also says a lot about what the coaching staff has done there."

Around the boards

Kleinendorst has tabbed Robin Lehner as his starter in goal for Game 1 against the Pirates. With their season on the line in the opening round against Manchester, the B-Sens turned to Lehner and the 19-year-old Swede responded by backstopping three straight OT wins to clinch the series. "He stepped in, and he did a great job for us," Kleinendorst told reporters in Binghamton. "He's helped us win our last three games. It doesn't take away from what (B-Sens starter) Barry Brust has done — he's had a great year. But right now, it's pretty obvious that Robin deserves to be there, and Robin will be there." ... Corey Locke, the AHL's scoring champ and most valuable player, could finally be good to go for Game 1 after sitting out the entire first round with a shoulder injury. "He looks good, he said he feels good, but let's just kind of wait and see how he wakes up in the morning," Kleinendorst said after practice Monday. "If he's no worse for wear, then I would say we'll probably get him in there on Wednesday."

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