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'We haven't forgotten about Binghamton'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Erik Condra and his fellow Sens callups are watching with interest as the Binghamton Senators try to nail down an American Hockey League playoff berth. They'll rejoin their former teammates if they manage to make it to the post-season (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Perhaps Erik Condra spoke for several of his current Ottawa Senators teammates when he took time out to ponder another group of his hockey brethren.

"We haven't forgotten about Binghamton," said the rookie forward, one of several callups from the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate now toiling regularly with the big club in Ottawa.

The B-Sens continue to cling to a precarious one-point lead in their bid to land the franchise's first AHL playoff berth since the lockout season of 2004-05. And Wednesday night's 5-2 road setback at the hands of the Adirondack Phantoms served to ratchet up the pressure even more on a team that, not so long ago, held a comfortable seven-point edge in its drive for a crossover playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

Should Binghamton hang onto that berth or rally to finish in the top four in its own East Division the fifth-place B-Sens currently trail the Norfolk Admirals by six points players such as Condra, Colin Greening, Bobby Butler and Zack Smith, who have been regulars in Ottawa since the National Hockey League trade deadline, are ticketed for a return to the Southern Tier for the post-season.

But as Greening admits, the waiting is indeed the hardest part, especially as they watch their friends and former teammates scratch and claw their way to the finish line.

"We miss the guys because we played with them for 55 games and we built relationships with them," said Greening, a first-year pro who rated among Binghamton's top scorers before his callup to Ottawa last month. "But we all realize this is why we play down in the AHL. Everyone realizes that they want to get called up. It’s tough, especially when you see they went 1-for-4 on the road trip (last week) and had a couple of tough games.

"You feel bad but at the end of the day, that’s life (in the minors). We’re still talking to guys and we wish them all the best. We hope they make the playoffs so we can get down there with them, but it’s really out of your hands. That’s the tough thing. You don’t want to get too preoccupied with something you can’t control."

That about sums up the attitude that B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst has tried to impart to his young team, which saw its ranks thinned severely after the parent club traded several veterans at the trade deadline for draft picks. Bodies were needed to fill the void at the NHL level and that meant the call went out to Greening, Condra, Butler and Co. all of them key parts of the Binghamton lineup.

"I remember when I was down there in January, (Kleinendorst) talking about that, that 'the trade deadline is coming up, there’s going to be moves, there’s going to be guys going up and down. But the key is to focus on ourselves,'" said Greening. "That’s applicable anywhere you go, whether it’s in Binghamton or at any level of hockey. You’ve got to focus on yourself, no matter what personnel you have in the lineup."

To hear a couple of other B-Sens tell it, morale remains high in the Binghamton dressing room, even as the pressure grows in the final few weeks of the season.

"We’ve been playing good hockey down there," said forward Jim O'Brien, who was recalled to Ottawa for Tuesday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins but returned to the farm the next day for the Adirondack game. "It just says a lot about those guys and the character of that group. (Morale) has stayed high. The stakes are high down there. They haven’t been in the playoffs down in Binghamton (since 2005) — they’ve come close a few times and missed it.

"Right now, we're sitting in a playoff spot, so it’s kind of exciting."

Added veteran blueliner David Hale, currently in Ottawa with the big club: "We've handled (the adversity) really well. The coach kept an even emotional level and he said 'we have who we have. We'll just try to win with that.'"

Down on the farm

Binghamton forward Corey Locke (18-58-76) holds a nine-point lead in the AHL scoring race over Alexandre Giroux (29-38-67) of the Oklahoma City Barons ... Though he's been in Ottawa since Feb. 14, Butler still ranks third (22) among league rookie goal scorers ... Forward Derek Grant, just signed to an amateur tryout agreement last week after inking an entry-level deal with the Sens, earned his first pro point with an assist in Saturday's 3-1 win over the Charlotte Checkers ... Hale skated in his 100th AHL game the same night ... Another busy weekend ahead for the B-Sens, starting with the Portland Pirates' visit to Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena on Friday night. The Springfield Falcons are in Binghamton on Saturday, then the B-Sens hit the road for a Sunday game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.


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