B-Sens earning 'A' grade for development
Ottawa's AHL affiliate a serious playoff contender while aiding big club
|Ryan Shannon has become a regular in the Ottawa Senators lineup since being promoted from the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. (Just Sports Photography).
Two seasons after posting the worst record in the American Hockey League, the Binghamton Senators have emerged as serious playoff contenders in the hotly contested East Division. They have already surpassed their 34-32-14 record of a year ago, which left the B-Sens just six points shy of the post-season. With 38 wins already in the bank, they currently hold down the fourth playoff spot in the East.
“We made huge strides last year, which we were happy with,” said Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray, who oversees the club’s top prospects in the AHL. “The Binghamton faithful wanted us to make the playoffs, but we missed out by (six) points. That was partly (goaltender) Brian Elliott getting injured and partly that we had a long way to go after a 55-point season the year before.”
The biggest testament to the growth in Binghamton is the increase in the talent pool capable of lending a hand to the big club. Elliott has been the biggest addition of them all posting a 15-4-3 mark, including a current eight-game winning streak that has set a Senators rookie record.
Defencemen Brendan Bell and Brian Lee, along with forward Ryan Shannon, have become regulars in the Senators lineup after spending time earlier this season in Binghamton, and centre Peter Regin also supplied significant minutes during two call-ups from the farm. In all, 10 B-Sens players have suited up for at least one National Hockey League game this season.
“I don’t think any of them contributed to a loss. That’s important,” said Murray. “That those guys came up and helped us not lose is as important as helping us win. They’ve all come up and done that.”
The biggest contributor, of course, has been head coach Cory Clouston, who was promoted halfway through his second season in Binghamton. He took over behind the Senators bench on Feb. 2, when Craig Hartsburg was relieved of his duties. Since then, the Senators have compiled the fifth-best record in the NHL (15-6-3).
“He’s a hockey guy,” Murray said of Clouston. “He’s a coach’s coach. He’s no-nonsense guy who demands a lot from his players. You’ll see results quickly if you’re willing to buy into his system.
“We had a 27-point increase last year and we were in the playoff hunt. That says a lot about (Clouston’s) quality as a coach.”
Former Senators assistant Curtis Hunt took over for Clouston and was immediately impressed with the calibre of players under his direction.
“We have a lot of character and we’re a hard team to play against,” said Murray. “Cory instilled that in them and it’s carrying on with Curtis. He told me they’re a great group of guys and he loves them. And that was after three games.”
The B-Sens have also benefited from an affiliation agreement the organization signed last summer with the Elmira Jackals of the East Coast Hockey League.
“(Elmira) has made it easier for us when we’ve gone through injuries and call-ups,” said Murray. “The coach down there, Steve Martinson, has been very willing to send us players. We’ve used them extensively and we’ve helped them, too (by sending players down to Elmira). They get more ice time and more confidence by playing.
There may be no bigger help for the Senators’ youngest prospects than getting the opportunity to experience a pro hockey playoff run for the first time. It’s a sentiment no doubt shared by the fans in Binghamton. And with nine games to go in the season, the B-Sens hold an eight-point edge over the Philadelphia Phantoms for the final post-season berth in the East.
“It would certainly be nice to be in the playoffs,” said Murray. “There are five teams in our division fighting for four spots. It’s a strong division. We could miss the playoffs by a point and still be in the top 10 in the whole league.
“But I think making the playoffs would be a good development tool for our younger guys. We’d love to make the playoffs, for sure.”