By Danielle Catalano
Head coach Curtis Hunt describes sophomore defenseman Derek Smith’s performance as simple but efficient. Left wing Mark Bomersback sees himself as humbled and easy-going. Nowhere is the word “dramatic” associated with either of these two Senators. However, that word characterizes the types of plays the teammates produced during Binghamton’s 4-3 win against Syracuse Wednesday night in overtime, helping the club pull even with the Philadelphia Phantoms for the final post-season spot in the East Division. If B-Sens fans have it their way, the drama will continue beyond the 2008-09 American Hockey League regular season finale this weekend.
“(With Bomersback and Smith) you have two totally different players,” Hunt says. “If you start with Bomer, he plays with incredible tenacity, great work ethic, protects the puck extremely well and whenever he gets the puck low, he’s quick enough, skilled enough to make plays down around the net. He’s at the net, he’s at the tough areas and has been awarded with some goals. And because of the way he plays the lower boards and uses his ice time, it’s been huge for us.”
“Derek, on the other hand,” Hunt continues, “I think he’s done a real good job of simplifying his game, at raising his intensity level. I thought (Wednesday’s) game, he was very physical, in terms of defending, but at the same time, he had a great read on the game winning goal, even on the tying goal… (getting) the play back to Mattias to generate the shot on the rebound chance for Zack.”
Though Wednesday’s non-conference match-up with the Syracuse Crunch wasn’t a must win for either team, it was as close as possible, and the winning team would enter the final weekend on more even ground in their respective division playoff hunt.
Early on, things were not looking good for the Senators. Not only was the team down 1-0 after the first 20 minutes of play, but the Philadelphia Phantoms—sitting one point ahead of Binghamton in the divisional standings—were up 1-0 against the Albany River Rats. A lost against the Crunch paired with a Philadelphia win would turn the B-Sens’ post-season dream into a nightmare scenario. Greg Mauldin eased tensions a bit by tying the game in the second period. Just 15 seconds into the third period, the calm was broken when Maksim Mayorov slid a wrister past outstretched Binghamton goaltender Jeff Glass,
As B-Sens fans rode their roller coaster ride of emotions, Bomersback fought off one Crunch player with his right arm to take a feed from Marc Cavosie, whom was stationed behind the net, and knocked the puck past Syracuse goaltender Kevin Lalande. In two minutes, 11 seconds the game was tied 2-2 and hope was restored. At 13:40, hope almost faded when a puck shot by Alexandre Picard near the right circle dot somehow evaded both Derek Smith and Glass to put Syracuse up 3-2.
Again, the Senators kept their cool, and with four seconds left in the game, Smith got revenge the sportsmanship way, fishing out the puck from the right offensive corner to initiate the drive that would lead to Zack Smith’s tying goal. Thirty-two seconds later in overtime, the defenseman was in the same corner drawing out Lalande just enough to allow teammate Peter Regin to circle behind the goal with the puck and score the game winner from the left side net unscathed.
“In order to have success (as a team), you got to be able to score from different points in your lineup,” Hunt says of how the team responded to Syracuse’s pressure. “…
Bomer scored in a huge response right away in the third period, so I think some of that is confidence, but I a lot of that is predictability of the group.”
Predictability would seem ironic for Bomersback—a 26-year old native of Rochester, Alta., who signed with the B-Sens March 9 after spending parts of the season with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and the AHL’s Providence Bruins and, yes, Syracuse Crunch—but, it is something he senses easily while playing alongside Cavosie and winger Jim O’Brien, a newcomer himself as the Crunch victory marked the young forward’s one week anniversary with the team.
“I think it’s just me, Cavo and Jimmy O’Brien playing well together, (we) seem to find each other,” Bomersback says. “I think the good thing about all three of us is that we work hard and we’re finally getting some balance and pucks going in.”
As for Smith’s rash of aggressive playmaking, Hunt surmises the defenseman’s confidence has always been there; it has just been building up gradually and the push for the playoffs is serving as the perfect valve. “You’ve got this time of year, which obviously raises the intensity level,” explains Hunt. “A lot of the games are tight—they are all like playoff games. As a player, everyone ‘gets it’ at different points in his career. Some players young, some players old. I think especially for Derek, he’s really coming into his own, in terms of using his complete skills set at the same time, keeping his game very efficient. Bomer’s still a young guy. He’s going to (work) his tail off every time he’s on the ice.”
“Both guys, for me,” he adds, “are playing within their strengths in terms of their skill sets, but they’ve raised their intensity levels and raised their (competition) levels, and because of it, you see them both having success.”
As dramatic as the B-Sen’s win was against the Crunch, don’t expect the final weekend of the 2008-09 regular hockey season to be any less gut-wrenching, Hunt says, pointing out Norfolk’s 4-3 overtime win against Wilkes-Barre Wednesday night. The stakes and emotions will be high for every player in the league this weekend, he says, so for Binghamton’s post-season dreams come true, it has to be an all-out team effort, with no players singled out and no contribution overlooked.
“It’s so important this time of the year that depth takes the pressure off…the guys we’ve leaned on time and time again,” Hunt says. “When the pressure’s off those guys, and we’re able to distribute the ice a little better, you get what we got (in Syracuse) with the overtime. Once the game went on, we got stronger. We were able to pin them in longer and we were able to win more battles. You can do that because you got balance in your lineup. You can trust players in situations other than your top-core guys that most people look to in their lineup.”