Saturday, January 30, 2010

Binghamton Senators Searching for a Playoff Spot

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Binghamton Senators...

The season has not gone as planned for the Eastern Conference’s Binghamton Senators. After 43 games, they have a 19-20-3-1 record and 42 points, which leaves them in 6th place in the AHL’s East Division, 30 points behind the first place Hershey Bears. However, they are only five points behind the third place Adirondack Phantoms and the playoffs are still a reality for the Ottawa Senators AHL affiliate. Much like their parent club, the squad in Bingo are in need of a lengthy winning streak to gain some ground in the standings. Losing 2-1 to the Phantoms last night, the Senators must regroup for tonight’s game against the Syracuse Crunch or risk having sole possession of last place in the East.

Calling Binghamton home since 2002, the Senators play at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, a 4,727-seat arena. While they are 22nd in attendance in the league, they are close to filling their arena on most nights, averaging 3,746 fans per game. The power play ranks 17th in the league, with an efficiency rating of 17.3%, it is on the penalty kill that they have excelled, ranking 5th in the league at 86.5 %. General Manager Tim Murray has worked hard to provide the team with quality players and Head Coach Don Nachbaur, a former NHL player that spent time on three NHL clubs, the Hartford Whalers, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers, brings a tremendous amount of coaching experience to the team. Before moving to Binghamton, Nachbaur spent several years in the Western Hockey League coaching the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Tri-City Americans. He was the Coach of the Year twice in the WHL, once with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 1995 and again with the Americans in 2006.

Leading the way this season for the Senators is Saskatoon Saskatchewan native, Ryan Keller. He played six games with Ottawa this season but has spent most of the year in Bingo. In 36 games, he leads the team with 21 goals and has accumulated 38 points; he is also a +12, second on the team in the plus/minus category. An interesting part of Keller’s hockey career was the time he spent in Finland playing for the Espoo Blues.

After an outstanding junior career with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL and some time in the AHL and UHL, he travelled to Finland for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons. During his time with the Blues, he was one of the team’s leading scorers, with 44 points in his first year and 55 points in his second, which led to his return to the AHL with the Senators. As part of Team Canada at this year’s AHL all-star game, Keller scored two goals and added one assist in Team Canada’s shootout victory over the Planet/USA team.

Third in team scoring for Binghamton is AHL veteran and a fellow native of Lachute Quebec (my hometown), Denis Hamel. Oddly enough, although we have never met (I am working on getting an interview), our parents farms are within a minute of each other - but that is a story for another day... Hamel was a sixth round pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 1995 entry draft but his rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres before his NHL career began.

He played 192 NHL games with Buffalo, Ottawa, Atlanta and Philadelphia. While with Ottawa in the 2007 season, he was sent to Binghamton but had to clear waivers. He was claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers, played three games and found himself on waivers again; this time, he was claimed by the Flyers. After moving so much that season and searching for stability in his hockey career, Hamel signed an AHL contract with the Binghamton Senators and has been an essential part of the team ever since. This year, in 43 games, Hamel has 17 goals and 20 assists. He has also been a factor on the power play, scoring 9 goals for the Senators. He is the career leader in goals (124) and points (236) for Binghamton and he has the single-season record for goals scored with 56 during the 2005-2006 season.

Binghamton finishes the month of January on the road with a game tonight against the Syracuse Crunch and on Sunday they travel to Hershey to take on the league leading Bears. February 20th is an important date to remember for Binghamton fans, the team heads outdoors to take on the Crunch in the Mirabito Outdoor Classic, held at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. This will be the first outdoor game in the history of the AHL.

Next week, The Voice of Sport AHL team profile looks at the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat. It is the first season for the franchise in the AHL...

Photo by PaulMiles on Flickr

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