Now that I’ve started to settle in as a regular contributor at AAtJ while at the same time getting acquainted to my new surroundings, I wanted to share some personal experiences in the hockey world here in Binghamton that began with last Saturday night’s win over Bridgeport.
To start, it appears a few outsiders are apparently not all too familiar with Binghamton’s involvement with the AHL and it’s long time history dating back to the beginning with the Broome Dusters in 1977. You see, we have a long history with the Whalers, Rangers, Senators and now the Devils who all claim to call the Southern Tier home during the winter months. It’s not a big deal, but it sparked my interest enough to respond, however in a good way.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of memories with so many players going through the turnstiles in Binghamton onto the NHL level, or to further their careers overseas. As a reminder, this is not about those individual players, but more towards the events that took place as a hockey fan.
Here are my Top 5 moments.
#1 The Arena & Broome Dusters
I’ve been through it all as I’ve been a hockey rat in the confines of the The Arena since I was a kid growing up watching the Broome Dusters in the mid 70’s, (and later participating in local youth hockey, high school and some college) but this novelty unlike others, was the real deal it would appear. The Dusters were something, as they took this community by storm with sellout after sellout on a regular occurrence at home games. The Arena was brand new at the time and with all the uproar, it caught the attention of Hollywood, as several players were given roles in the movie ‘Slap Shot’ including one of my idol’s Rod Bloomfield, who served as Paul Newman’s double in the classic movie. The Dusters would eventually reach the NAHL finals in 1975 before getting swept by the Johnstown Jets. That would rank up there as the number one memory in my long history linked to the ‘ole barn, as hockey was introduced and would remain feeding our overwhelming addiction for the sport including today, in the long, winter months.
#2 Binghamton Whalers Reach AHL Finals/IHL Merge
I would say number two would be a tie between the Whalers when they reached the AHL finals in 1982 and the AHL/IHL merger in 2001. The Whalers would go on to lose to the New Brunswick Hawks in five games that season, as our second leading points producer Randy MacGregor, who was a fan favorite and a carryover from the Dusters’ era, was hobbled with a knee injury late in the season and was sorely missed in the playoffs. Regarding the merger, there was just eleven teams in the AHL at the time while competing head on with the IHL, who eventually went under while taking on larger cities with unheard of payrolls. Soon after, there was a merger between the two leagues in 2001, as the IHL went bankrupt while the AHL absorbed six cities down the path to become what they are today.
#3 2011 Calder Cup Champions
It definitely belongs to the Binghamton Senators as they won the Calder Cup for the first time here in the Southern Tier. (Remember, this is my own personal list as others might make this their #1 choice, so excuse the slight generation gap). That post season run was just an unforgettable experience, not only for myself but the fans as collectively we enjoyed that run and we’ll never forget. We finally did it, after so many losing seasons and high expectations along the way. The City of Ottawa and the Senators opened up the gates of returning AHL hockey back to Binghamton in 2002, and it had finally paid off.
#4 AHL Rangers Move To Hartford
I cannot ever forget when the NY Rangers left town short of their affiliation agreement at the end of the 1997 season. That stung big time, as we were left with the B.C. Icemen of the UHL for an agonizing long, five seasons as I did not go to one game during that span. It was rough, I was hockey depressed and had shut it down, but looked forward to when it would all end in the back of my mind. I was spoiled with the caliber of play of the AHL as I mean nothing personally bad to the players and fans of the Icemen. I just wanted the Rangers back, but more specifically, I wanted the AHL back. Thanks to Ottawa, it happened in 2002.
#5 Binghamton Devils’ Inaugural Game
Last Saturday night was simply unbelievable. What a feeling it was after almost six months in the waiting since the last game took place back in April with the BSens. The energy felt in the Arena and its fans, were alive, as I haven’t heard it as loud reminiscent to the 2011 playoffs. How supportive the fans were being receptive and the atmosphere it created, that was just awesome, as the sold out crowd cheered on their new team with “Let’s Go Devils!” chants throughout the evening to help persuade the new players to a new comfort level with a connection in the stands. That night, was special indeed, and one for the record books. I cannot forget the fans in Albany though, as I hope they again will one day root for another hockey club soon in their area, if not in Binghamton.
There are many, many hockey fanatics like myself that have been to a Dusters’ game at some point back in the 70’s, as this community is very passionate about their winter sport that was first introduced by Jim Matthews & Co. It just exploded back then and yes, we’ve had our lumps and bruises over the years, but we’ve survived as a community and we must now focus on this new team and it’s players in support.
Let’s Go Devils!