Upstate New York isn’t the greatest place to be during the early months of the year. It’s always cold, it snows every other day and doesn’t melt until April, and you see the sun once or twice a month if you’re lucky. For all of the bad things that come with going to school up here, one thing upstate New York has is plenty of cheap, minor league hockey.
Syracuse and Binghamton are both less than an hour away from me, so anytime I feel like seeing the top prospects the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils have to offer, I can do that at a moment’s notice. Utica is about an hour and a half away, and Rochester is a shade under two hours away. Not that the the Canucks or Sabres have any interesting prospects worth seeing, but it’s always nice to have your options open.
As luck would have it, the Hartford Wolf Pack made one of their two annual visits to Binghamton after the spring semester of school started, so a road trip was in order. I’d seen the Wolf Pack in person on two previous occasions, both of them in Bridgeport. I was lucky enough to see Wade Redden and Donald Brashear among those skating for Hartford at the first AHL game I attended, and the second one saw Ryan Graves and Oscar Lindberg put on a show. I had pretty low expectations for $10 tickets on college night, but I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at my seat:
There wasn’t enough room on the visiting bench for the backup goaltender to sit with his teammates, so with recent acquisition J-F Berube and his Lehigh Valley Phantoms gear getting the start, Adam Huska enjoyed the game from a folding chair approximately ten feet to my left behind the corner glass. The downside of sitting so close to the glass is that you only get a good view of one half of the rink, and my seat was at the end Hartford defended twice.
Regardless of that, there was plenty to notice when the action came down my way. I kept an eye on Vitali Kravtsov in particular every time he hopped over the boards, and it’s incredible just how lanky he looks compared to some of the grizzled AHL veterans patrolling the ice. He made a handful of nice individual plays, but was held off the score sheet and didn’t jump out at me in any particular way.
Yegor Rykov, Cristoval Nieves, and Gabriel Fontaine were among the players that watched the contest in suits. I was disappointed not to see Rykov on the ice, and seeing Vincent LoVerde, Nick Ebert, and Mason Geertsen among the blue liners skating in his place didn’t really move the needle for my excitement.
Libor Hajek drew into the lineup, and he played more of the same milquetoast, nondescript hockey that he played on Broadway before being mercifully re-assigned to Hartford. One in-person observation doesn’t change my thoughts on him, as his status as a centerpiece in the Ryan McDonagh deal has always been questionable at best. Even still, I’m not sure what the Rangers saw in him to warrant his acquisition, his recall last season, or his spot on the opening night roster this season prior to getting hurt and subsequently demoted. There just isn’t much there.
Hartford lost the game 5-3, and the three goal scorers were Ty Ronning, Vinni Lettieri, and Matt Beleskey. Two of the Wolf Pack’s three tallies came during the second period when they were shooting towards my end of the ice, and both goals were essentially the same play. A failed clearing attempt by a Devils’ defenseman ended up on Ronning’s stick in the slot and in the back of the net shortly thereafter to knot the game up at one. Another defensive zone turnover ended up on Lettieri’s stick a couple of minutes later, and he deposited it into the twine for his team-leading 25th goal of the campaign to take a 2-1 lead.
That would be the first and last lead the Wolf Pack enjoyed all night. Binghamton tied the game back up at two goals apiece prior to the end of the second period. The teams traded third period goals before Marian Studenic delivered the dagger with under 6:00 to play to put the Devils ahead 4-3.
Binghamton’s fourth goal of the evening also earned everyone in attendance a free cheeseburger from Burger King, so you can only imagine the deafening roars that the crowd erupted in after Studenic scored the go ahead goal. Berube headed to the bench with 100 seconds to go for an extra attacker, but Hartford failed to find the back of the net before an empty netter with 1.5 seconds remaining officially solidified the result.
Shots were 27-21 in favor of Binghamton, and the relatively split crowd filed out after the final buzzer sounded. I spotted jerseys from Rangers and Devils fans, as well as the Sabres, Flames, Hurricanes, and even someone rocking a Ron Francis Whalers sweater. It wasn’t a particularly exciting game, but anytime you can spend $10 to watch professional hockey in person, it’s something you have to take advantage of.
Friday night’s game marked the last time the Wolfpack will be on the road against any of the four New York-based AHL teams this season, so it’ll be the last Rangers-related game I attend of the season in all likelihood. A deep playoff run by Hartford as well as one of the New York teams could merit another trip should they square off in the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, but that’s a long way from happening. Given the Blueshirts’ current roster situation, it wouldn’t be a shock if one or two of the players I watched on Friday end up on Broadway sooner rather than later.