Binghamton looking for Swede success

Binghamton looking for Swede success
Mike Zibanejad undergoes testing at Binghamton training camp (Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen)

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — A little bit of Scandinavia has moved into the southern tier of New York State.

Everywhere you look around the Binghamton Senators dressing room, there’s a young Swedish hockey star.

At almost every position. Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad and Andre Petersson are on the wings. The defence includes Fredrik Claesson. Robin Lehner is back in goal, and as the Binghamton veteran of the bunch, he’s the de facto tour guide for the other four.

“There are five of us here and I’m very excited about that,” says Silfverberg. “I hope all of us make the team. It’s going to be a lot of fun if that happens.”

Silfverberg is remarkably upbeat, considering what might have been.

After capturing a triple crown of sorts in Sweden last season – earning regular season and playoff most valuable player honours and winning the Swedish Elite League title with Brynas – he provided Senators fans with a tiny sample of his skills in Games 6 and 7 of the first round playoff series against the New York Rangers.

There also happens to be a vacancy on the right side beside first-line centre Jason Spezza. The Senators organization is cautiously optimistic that Silfverberg, selected in the second round, 39th overall, of the 2009 entry draft, can fill that space. Like everything else at the big-league level of hockey, however, that’s on hold due to the NHL lockout.

“Of course, all the players here are disappointed there’s no Ottawa Senators camp,” he says. “Now, I’m just excited about being here at another camp and trying out for this team. I just want to get off to a big start.”

Silfverberg, who turns 22 in two weeks, scored 24 goals and 30 assists in 49 games with Brynas last season, but he will face adjustments playing in a small rink and living in a small New York city. He says the two-game trial by fire he received in the playoffs last spring has made the move easier.

“That helped me a lot,” he says. “Not only the hockey and getting a feeling for that, but all the things around it. How you move around, how you travel. What do you do when you don’t play hockey. All that kind of stuff. It was a great experience and knowing all that coming in here is making me more comfortable.”

While the Senators organization is keeping a close eye on Silfverberg’s development here, they’re also hoping that Zibanejad re-discovers the jump he showed at Ottawa’s training camp last season.

Zibanejad, selected sixth overall by the Senators in the 2011 entry draft, played the opening nine games with Ottawa to start the 2011-12 season. After being sent back to Sweden, however, he endured a difficult season with Djurgardens, One of the few highlights was scoring the winning goal for Sweden at the gold medal game at the world junior championships.

“That’s history now, there’s nothing I can change, but I can bring some good moments to this year,” Zibanejad says. “It was a good learning experience year for me last year. Maybe not the best result wise, but it was still a good year.”

For the time being, anyway, Zibanejad has moved from centre to left wing, perhaps a quicker route to the NHL because of the organization’s depth at centre.

“It’s up to them, because I know I can play left wing and centre,” he says. “There’s not really that big a difference there.”

Zibanejad says having a few fellow Swedes around is also a bonus.

“I’m a little more secure now and you always have somebody to talk to,” he says. “Robin (Lehner) and (Petersson) have been here before and they kind of know all about it, so that’s good for me, too.”

Spezza makes Swiss debut: Jason Spezza’s Rapperswil-Jona Lakers lost 4-0 to the ZSC L:ions Friday. It was Spezza’s first game overseas since deciding to join the Swiss League during the NHL lockout. Spezza finished the game with a minus 1 rating.

 

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