Monday, April 13, 2015

Utica Comets 2 at Binghamton Senators 3 (SO, AHL) - April 11, 2015


With Club 122 in the books, I've resumed my larger sports road tripping challenge: all minor leagues in the Big 4 sports (160 minor league ballparks, 58 hockey rinks in the AHL and ECHL, and 18 NBDL gyms) and the 3 remaining "major" leagues (MLS, CFL, NLL). I originally called this my Quest for 400 as when the 122 venues of the big 4 were added, the total number of venues happened to equal 400, but with franchises coming and going every year, that round number has dropped a bit and the Quest for 396 isn't as meaningful. Now I just keep track of my overall venue count. Out of the 274 venues in these lower leagues, I've already been to 117, which means 157 left to visit. I plan to crisscross the country over the next three years to see every one of them, assuming the cooperation of the various schedule makers. After that, I can finally retire and limit my sports road trips to new stadiums, college venues, and watching Toronto teams on the road.

With that in mind, I am in the midst of a weekly AHL tour, whereby I spend every weekend driving from New York to one of the nearby arenas. Last weekend, on the day my hometown Ottawa Senators improbably clinched a playoff spot, I paid a visit to their farm club in Binghamton. Ottawa had a rather unstable minor league system for their first few years. Their inaugural season saw them partner with the New Haven Senators, who moved to Prince Edward Island for three years before suspending operations. While the franchise remained dormant, Ottawa used Worcester for a single season and then Grand Rapids in the IHL for two years before the Griffins jumped to the AHL. Finally, in 2002, the sleeping Senators were awakened and moved to Binghamton, where they took the parent club's nickname. Over the last decade, the team stablised Ottawa's minor league situation, and they even won a Calder Cup in 2011. A few players from that championship club are with the Senators now and certainly had a part to play in their record-breaking playoff run.



The B-Sens play in the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena, which resembles a government building more than a sporting venue, at least as I approached from the north. It reminded me of the Brutalist architecture that was popular around the time the arena was opened in 1973 (the term
Brutalist comes from the French beton brut, or "raw concrete,") and certainly concrete is the dominant feature on the outside. The arena is right downtown and street parking is available, though if you get there late you might have to look around a bit. Nearby lots are $5 if you want to avoid the hassle of driving around. Before entering, stop by the northwest corner, where there is an actual memorial to the war dead from the area. Note that one of the panels for the names of those who sacrificed all for their country remains blank; I'm not sure if this is intended as an artistic wish for no more war, or just advanced preparation for the next time America's military are sent to battle.



Should you need to buy tickets, the box office is on the ground floor in the northeast corner. As is my custom at these minor league games, I spent a few minutes here to see if anyone had an extra ticket. Sure enough, a gentleman was trying to give away a single Skybox seat. The only caveat was that I could not sit in the Skybox with his group. No problem there, the arena would be half full at best and so I took the freebie and entered - my 545th lifetime venue and 19th active AHL rink.



Much like the Memorial Arena in Syracuse, you walk upstairs to reach the main concourse, which is separated from the seating bowl by doors at every section. The typical food items are here, including a 12 oz. Labatt's Blue for only $5, a relative bargain these days. Note the Binghamton Hockey Hall of Fame along one wall at the east end of the concourse.



Inside the seating bowl, you have four distinct sides, with no corner seats. The leads to some interesting options on all sides, including single seats low in each corner, which are right above the tunnels to the dressing rooms. These don't have great sightlines to the ice, but are good if you want to heckle the opposition.



The ceiling is adorned with banners celebrating other Binghamton hockey teams, including the Rangers who played here from 1990-97 and are now the Hartford Wolf Pack. Of course, the highlight is the Calder Cup banner.



Overall, this is a good old barn that suits its purpose well. With the NHL soon to eliminate the last three rinks from the 1970s (Nassau Coliseum, Rexall Place, and Joe Louis), the AHL will be the only place to enjoy old-time arenas, and the one in Binghamton is well worth adding to your list should you be passing through.

The Game

Vancouver's top affiliate, the West-leading Utica Comets were in town to face the B-Sens, who had already been eliminated from playoff contention. Utica featured a few players who had enjoyed brief stints with the Canucks earlier in the year, including Alex Biega and Adam Clendening. The first period ended goalless, but just 50 seconds into the second. Hunter Shinkaruk opened the scoring for the visitors, scoring right off a face-off. Binghamton replied when Cole Schneider took advantage of some sloppy Comet clearing and broke in alone on Joacim Eriksson (making a save below), beating him with a great rising wrist shot.



Five minutes after that, Brandon DeFazio regained the lead for Utica with a power-play marker, only to have Buddy Robinson reply for Binghamton just a couple of minutes later, backhanding home a rebound during a 4-on-4 situation.



The third period was dominated by Utica but they could not beat Chris Driedger (above) despite throwing 16 shots his way, and we went to overtime. Nothing was solved there, so it was back to the shootout, only Binghamton's second of the season. After DeFazio missed to open the breakaway portion of the evening, Schneider skated in and beat Eriksson easily. When the next four skaters missed, Binghamton had won. But wait! The referee forgot that the AHL reverted to a 3-round shootout this season! Two more skaters went for each team while everyone wondered what the hell was going on. Thankfully all missed and Binghamton got their well-deserved 2 points, but I am sure that the league office had a chat with ref Kendrick Nicholson after that little mix-up.



Notes

Utica's Cal O'Reilly had the longest point streak in the league this season, 14 games going back to March 7, but the B-Sens kept him from extending it.

Update: The teams played again in Binghamton on April 15 with the B-Sens winning 6-5 in overtime, but the bigger story was a goalie "fight" involving Jacob Markstrom (recently sent down by the Canucks) and Peter Mannino.

I am hoping that Utica will play Toronto in the first round of the AHL playoffs as I have yet to visit there (it lies about an hour east of Syracuse). I originally had planned to travel there on the Sunday after this game, but with both Utica and visiting Syracuse on their third game in three days, I expected a stinker (2-1) and so went to Scranton for minor league baseball. For once, a good decision on my part, as you'll see in the next post.

Best,

Sean


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