Spezza pair propels Senators past Rats

By Mike Buskus

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (January 19, 2003). The short-handed (injuries and NHL call-ups) Albany River Rats battled back, from a shot-less first period and a two-goal deficit after 20 minutes to tie the game in Binghamton, with a late goal (16:06 of the third) by Greg Crozier. However, a nifty behind-the-net maneuver by Jason Spezza half a minute later restored the Senators’ lead, closing out the scoring for the final result, 4-3 Senators in regulation.

The first period was one of futility for the River Rats. When forwards Scott Cameron and Jason Lehoux of Albany collided with each other and both fell down deep in the attack zone, some quick passes led to a Binghamton goal. Uncharacteristically (for him), Brad (“shooter”) Smyth passed, feeding Alexandre Giroux at center ice, who found Chris Kelly open on the left side of the under-manned Albany zone.

Seconds after the first part of overlapping Albany penalties expired (Rob Skrlac, cross-checking on Dennis Bonvie; Daryl Andrews, delay of game on an errant clearing pass on the penalty kill), but before Skrlac could either cross the ice to the bench or join the kill, the five Binghamton Senators in the attack zone moved the puck as the three Rats in the zone were out-manned. Jason Spezza got his first of two goals on the night, to give the Senators a two-goal cushion midway through the first period.

Immediately after the second Binghamton goal, a pair of fights ensued. Rat Brett Clouthier went against Senator Brian McGratton, with a few punches thrown but not too many connecting. The more interesting bout, at center ice, with linesmen helpfully clearing gloves and sticks out of the way, was between Dennis Bonvie of Binghamton and Rob Skrlac of Albany. Skrlac landed early punches, but Bonvie persisted and landed a few before the pair fell to the ice. Albany coach Dennis Gendron had, in effect, sent a message that, despite the two-goal deficit, the Rats had no intention of giving up.

Though they failed to register a single shot in the first period, they had one great scoring chance. On a power play, a nice centering pass from Max Birbraer to Jason Lehoux was shot wide of the net, though Lehoux was in scoring territory between the hash marks.

The second period was almost like a completely different game. Instead of trailing 14-0 in shots, the Rats held the edge, 13-5, holding territorial advantage as well. A pair of power play goals for Albany (Lehoux from Scott Cameron and Ray Giroux; Mikko Jokela from Ray Giroux and Eric Johansson) tied the game at two.

All-Star Ray Giroux was particularly impressive on the power play for Albany, at one point diving to the ice with his stick to save the puck in the zone and stop a clearing pass.

It was a night for players struck with pucks. Albany defenseman, Mike Matteucci took a slap shot from Jason Spezza in the face midway through the first period, but returned to action in the second. Steve Bancroft of Binghamton took a slapper into the nose (draining a puddle of blood on the ice) late in the third period and did not return to play).

Brad Smyth gave the Senators the lead, 3-2, early in the third period when his wrist shot from the right wing circle roofed into the net past Scott Clemmensen.

The Senators tried to guard their one-goal lead with conservative play the rest of the way. However, with just under four minutes remaining, the line of Greg Crozier, Craig Darby and Ken Sutton (defenseman, playing forward because of the Rats’ injuries and call-ups) struck paydirt. Crozier fired a shot that Binghamton netminder, Ray Emery, shoveled into the corner. Crozier then went to the net and was ready when Darby dug the puck out of the corner, went behind the cage and flipped a centering pass in front. The score was knotted at three.

Unfortunately for Albany, Binghamton won the game on the next shift. Alexandre Giroux dumped the puck into the right corner of the Albany zone. Jason Spezza beat an Albany player to the puck, skated behind the net and fired a wrap-around marker through Clemmensen’s pads. It was the game-winner for Binghamton.

The three stars, as awarded by Binghamton media, all went to Senators: third, to newly named captain Brian Pothier, with a pair of assists; second, to Alexandre Giroux of Binghamton with three assists; and, first, to Jason Spezza, with a pair of markers, including the game-winner.

This writer would have given second star to Albany’s Ray Giroux for quarterbacking the Albany power play and netting assists on both of the Rats’ man-up goals.

Others deserving favorable mention include Dennis Bonvie of Binghamton. Not only did he goad Rob Skrlac into a first period penalty, he also fought the much bigger Skrlac in a true center-ice bout. Also, Senators’ defenseman Steve Bancroft (who took a puck to the nose) was a “+3” on the evening.

For Albany, center Scott Cameron, despite the accidental collision with teammate Jason Lehoux (that led to the first Binghamton goal), had a strong outing. He drove the net on a Rats’ power play, leading to the rebound that Lehoux buried.