Senators prospects adjusting to AHL grind

Sometimes a coach might wonder whether the AHL stands for the Always Hoping League. As in, always hoping your young prospects can withstand the nature of the hectic weekend-oriented schedule and always hoping you have enough healthy bodies around to finish games.

Senators prospects adjusting to AHL grind
Hershey Bears' Ryan Stoa (21) competes for the puck with Binghamton Senators' Patrick Wiercioch (17) during an AHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Hershey, Pa. (AP Photo/Lebanon Daily News, Glen Gray)

Sometimes a coach might wonder whether the AHL stands for the Always Hoping League.

As in, always hoping your young prospects can withstand the nature of the hectic weekend-oriented schedule and always hoping you have enough healthy bodies around to finish games.

A mere five games into his head coaching career, Binghamton Senators coach Luke Richardson has already experienced his share of the above.

After Binghamton played three games in 69 hours last weekend, Richardson bumped into 19-year-olds Mika Zibanejad and Fredrik Claesson at the grocery store during a well-deserved day off on Monday. Zibanejad and Claesson, fresh to the AHL after playing last season in the Swedish Elite League, acknowledged they weren’t used to the grind and didn’t have the strength left to do much of anything.

Richardson understood where they were coming from, but he says they must learn to deal with it. Every other young prospect on every other team is dealing with the same issues.

The nature of the schedule also tends to make the injury list grow in a hurry, as well. Jared Cowen (pulled leg muscle), Ben Bishop (strep throat) and Erik Gryba (sprained wrist) head up the laundry list of players who are currently sidelined.

The road ahead isn’t all that easy, either. Even though Binghamton plays only twice this weekend – Saturday against the Portland Pirates and Sunday afternoon versus the Manchester Monarchs – the schedule includes an eight-hour bus ride Friday and a five-hour trek home late Sunday.

“I guess we have to get some comedies for the bus,” Richardson said, as he looked back at the weekend that was (a 1-1-1 record) and looked ahead at the upcoming two games. “We’ve already learned lots of lessons.”

Binghamton wasn’t prepared last Friday against Hershey, falling behind 3-0 early in an eventual 3-2 defeat. On Saturday, they blew a 5-0 lead after goaltender Robin Lehner was ejected for fighting Syracuse netminder Riku Helenius, ultimately losing 6-5 in overtime with Nathan Lawson finishing up in the Binghamton net.

Binghamton rebounded Sunday against Hershey for a 2-1 overtime victory, in which Lehner was “unbelievable,” according to Richardson.

“We gave him the opportunity to return and he ran with it. I think he felt bad (about Saturday). You could hear him in the dressing room. He was very verbal before the game, telling everyone how important the game was. It was a big win. We were banged up.”

Lehner has a 3-1 record, with a goals against average of 1.32 and a .954 save percentage. The showdown with Bishop, who finished the 2011-12 season with the Ottawa Senators, will have to wait a while. Bishop was working his way into game shape when he caught a virus and Richardson isn’t going to rush him into the net.

“He’s on some antibiotics,” said Richardson. “Maybe with the move and getting into the hotel and maybe not eating the best, he’s run down a bit. Hopefully he can get a couple of practices in soon.”

Cowen, who didn’t play Saturday and Sunday, also isn’t expected to play this weekend, as the Senators organization isn’t going to take any chances their prized 21-year-old defenceman, who has three assists in three games.

The Binghamton coach says he has been impressed with several of his prospects.

Zibanajed, who has two assists in five games while playing both left wing and centre, was “our most consistent offensive threat on Friday and Saturday, excellent penalty killing and on faceoffs,” according to Richardson.

He also praised the all-around play of Mike Hoffman, the 22-year-old centre and power play point man, who has one goal and three assists in five games.

The veteran leadership has come from winger Hugh Jessiman and defenceman Andre Benoit, Binghamton’s captain. Jessiman, 6-6 and 231 pounds, scored the overtime game winner Sunday.

Benoit has two goals and an assist, and if the NHL lockout ends soon, Richardson says “there’s a chance he could be up there.”

kwarren@ottawacitizen.com
Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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