An estimated 5,000 fans lined the streets of Binghamton, N.Y., on Wednesday to celebrate the city’s first pro hockey title.
Few enjoyed it more than two men with Connecticut ties, one of whom had to get reports in his hospital bed.
The first thing the victorious Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators did after arriving home after a clinching 3-2 victory over the host Houston Aeros on Tuesday night was to bus to UHS Wilson Medical Center in nearby Johnson City where assistant coach Steve Stirling is recovering from an emergency quadruple bypass surgery on Sunday that prevented him from being behind the bench for Game 6.
Posted onJune 8, 2011|Comments Off on FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET
BY: Bruce Berlet
The Binghamton Senators hadn’t even qualified for the Calder Cup playoffs the past five seasons, but Tuesday night they had extra incentive to win their first AHL championship.
With assistant coach and former Bridgeport Sound Tigers and New York Islanders head coach Steve Stirling back in central New York recovering from emergency quadruple bypass heart surgery Sunday night, the Senators rallied with third-period, power-play goals from Bobby Butler and captain Ryan Keller to beat the host Houston Aeros 3-2 and clinch the title before a record crowd of 10,125 at the Toyota Arena.
The Aeros took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Games 4 and 5 on Friday and Saturday nights at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, on Tuesday and next Thursday nights in Houston.
DiSalvatore knocked in his own rebound for his sixth playoff goal, then Prosser picked up a loose puck and beat Senators rookie goalie Robin Lehner at 12:51 of the second period. Patrick O’Sullivan got his second assist of the game on the winner.
Senators captain Ryan Keller scored his ninth goal of the playoffs at 2:52 of the third period, but Aeros rookie goalie Matt Hackett (28 saves) shut down Binghamton the rest of the way to improve to 14-7 in the postseason. The Senators, who had 21 goals in a four-game sweep of Charlotte in the Eastern Conference finals, have only four games in the first three games against the Western Conference champion Aeros, who are seeking their first title since 2003.
But the fans thought the Senators had tied it with 24.5 seconds left on a goal by former Wolf Pack center Corey Locke, the AHL’s MVP and leading scorer (86 points) this season, during a late flurry after pulling Lehner. But referee Terry Koharski waved his arms to signal no goal, leading to many in a sellout crowd of 4,710 to rain plastic bottles and cups on the ice.
“(The puck) was on its edge, but it didn’t go over (the goal line),” Hackett said. “With the (Senators) goalie pulled, it was pretty intense. People were blocking shots with their faces, with any part of their body, and they did a great job.”
Senators coach Kurt Kleinendorst didn’t dispute the no-goal call but was upset his team wasn’t as intense as the Aeros.
“These are the Calder Cup finals, and you would expect your group would show up and give you an honest 60 (minutes),” Kleinendorst said. “I think we can do better. We have to give credit to Houston, but at the same time, I know this group, I know my guys, and we’re not quite where we need to be. We’re close, but close isn’t going to cut it. We’re going to have to fight for every little inch.”
And that’s about by how much the Senators failed to tie it late, but there is no video replay in the AHL because not all arenas in the 30-team league are equipped for it.
“That’s hockey,” Senators forward Mike Hoffman said. “Sometimes that happens. The chances were there, we just had to capitalize, and we didn’t. That’s why we lost the game.”
Instead, the Aeros regained the home-ice advantage and hope to return home with the Calder Cup. The Senators, now only 4-5 at home in the playoffs, hope to get back to Houston in a bid for their first title.
DiSalvatore was thinking otherwise.
“We’re striving for two more wins,” he said. “We can’t go flying high on this win and forget what we need to do. We have to look at tape from this game and look at things we can do to get better.”
DiSalvatore has been better than ever this season, having scored a career-high 28 goals during the regular season and now helping put the Aeros within two victories of another AHL championship. It has been 11 years since the Wolf Pack won the only title in Hartford hockey history, though Dineen had sure tried hard to get one earlier. After all, there are loads of reasons that his number (11) and that of Connecticut Whale coach Ken Gernander (12) are in the XL Center rafters.
“I stepped up on a guy (right wing Eric Condra) and made a good smack on him and was kind of dazed for a second just trying to get back to my senses,” With McDonagh down on the ice by the center redline, centerman Cody Bass came over and held McDonagh down to the ice and gave him a couple of shots that prevented him from getting back in to the play.
Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander was not happy with referee Mark Lemelin. “I thought someone took a retaliation poke at McDonagh. He made a good hit in the neutral zone, and one of their guys came over and gave him a shot that prohibited him from getting up,” the 4th year coach said. “There should have been a penalty, but at that point, what’s he going to do? He missed it.”
“Guys were saying (Bass) gave me an extra shot and kept me down. I tried to get up as fast I could. I just realized it was a 2-on-2, and I didn’t stick with my guy and it led to a goal,” the obviously disappointed Pack defenseman said.
So with McDonagh pinned to the ice, the puck was picked up by Jim O’Brien who rushed in up the left side on Wolf Pack starter Chad Johnson, (2-3-1, 19 saves).
Johnson was clearly disappointed in how the game ended. “The shot just handcuffed me,” he said. “(O’Brien) didn’t really hammer it the way I thought he would, the puck dropped and I moved to the left but just didn’t get over fast enough. I sprawled when I just should have slid over. It was a bad bounce, but it’s one that I have to make a better effort on in that situation. With three minutes left, I have to try to get my body in a different position and control the puck. It’s a real tough way to lose.”
“I didn’t think it was a great shot, and the rebound was big and (Johnson) couldn’t recover, and with three minutes left, it’s tough to battle back from that,” Gernander said.
The story in this one was the stellar goaltending of Johnson’s counterpart, Barry Brust (2-2-0, 28 saves).
The first period saw only 13 shots on goal between both teams even with four power plays, three of which went to the home team, but still favored the visitors. However the second stanza was a totally different story.
Hartford came out of the locker room and simply dominated play all over the ice. They held onto the puck in the offensive zone for what seemed like minutes at a time but just could not get it into the net past Brust, who has given the Wolf Pack fits in Hartford his entire career.
Brust stopped excellent opportunities by captain Dane Byers on his doorstep at 7:51 and then off a two-on-one odd man rush used his glove to envelop a Devin DiDiomete slap shot from the left circle. DiDiomete was playing in his first game since recovering from off-season hip surgery.
“Brust was our knight in shining armor,” Kleinendorst said, “Otherwise we’re down 2-0 or 3-0 at the end of the second period.”
“It’s frustrating for sure,” McDonagh said. “The good thing is we played pretty close to a 60-minute game. And coming back from that Norfolk game (a 5-1 loss Wednesday night), that’s what we wanted to focus on. I think the guys gave a great effort, and everybody finished their checks and that’s just the way we have to play every game and build off of this.”
* Whalers Sports & Entertainment chairman/CEO Howard Baldwin will be meeting and greeting Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale fans prior to the Wolf Pack’s home game this Saturday, October 23 vs. the Syracuse Crunch at the XL Center Atrium, adjacent to the arena box office from 6:15-6:45 PM.