Chris Laganiére got a chance to see the first Binghamton Jr. Senators team more than a decade ago, but just missed his opportunity to play for that squad.
By Joshua Boyd
His father, Pierre, coached that team, and now it’s running in the family. Chris Laganière is the Head Coach of the current incarnation of the Binghamton Jr. Senators, who play in the NA3HL.
“That team just started when I was 20 years old,” said Chris. Now, more than 10 years later, Chris Laganiére has put together a crew of 17-to 20-year-olds that he hopes can once again make the full run to the NA3HL’s Silver Cup finals.
It’s a tough Cup to win – there are 46 other teams coast to coast with the same goal, but Jr. Senators General Manager Ray Welsh believes his organization has all of the tools in place for players to develop towards that goal.
“The ice is available to the junior team every day from 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. There is a players-only captains’ practice from 11-12:30 p.m., and then the players are back on the ice with the coaches from 3:30-5:15,” said Welsh. ““There is a gym located within our facility that the players utilize.”
“We are very fortunate that the Ice House Complex owner Mike Rogers allows us any free ice time. For the kids not in school or taking college courses, they have the opportunity to improve their skills on the ice,” added Laganiére. “That really helped us a lot last year, where we were a little more in shape than some other teams late in the year. We still had our legs, with the amount of time we’re allowed to skate.”
The Jr. Senators started five years ago as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Miners, playing in the former Northern States Hockey League.
The teams from that league formed the NA3AHL two years ago, before being fully accepted into the NA3HL for the 2016-17 season. That year, the Miners moved to Binghamton and made an immediate impact.
The Senators went a staggering 45-1-0-1, and advanced though the playoffs to be one of the final four teams standing in the Silver Cup championship weekend. They fell by one goal (3-2) to the eventual champion Granite City Lumberjacks in the semifinals.“It’s early in the year, and we’re still trying to figure out our identity, but we’re hoping to build on the success we had last year,” said Laganiére. “We’ve worked hard every day in practice, and come February, we hope to be peaking at the right time. As the coach, you worry a little about what you’re doing right now, but we want to get better every week and peak at the right time.”
The Jr. Senators earned a following of loyal fans during their inaugural season, as Welsh said the team gets roughly 300-400 spectators per game.
“About eight years ago, my kids played here in Binghamton and I always remember that the junior team had a lot of public and community support,” said Welsh. “We have billet families here waiting for players. The support is incredible. The players want to come here, and they like playing in front of crowds. It’s a great environment.“We have hosted two successful fundraising events, benefitting Traci’s Hope for Breast Cancer and our 2015-2016 Miners Captain, Derrick Wruble, who was paralyzed in a car accident.
“We have a special relationship with the Ice House Hawks, a special needs team, which our players skate with weekly,” said Welsh. “The Junior Senators are also involved in various other events throughout the community. Giving back is a top priority for us. Moving to Binghamton was the best decision we made for our franchise.”
As mentioned, Laganiére has close community ties to Binghamton.
He grew up there, as his father Pierre played for the former Broome County Dusters of the NAHL Senior Division in 1977. That team became the AHL’s Binghamton Dusters a year later – players were called up from that team to the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Binghamton’s AHL history continued with the Whalers from 1980-90, the Rangers from 1990-97, the Senators (2002-17) and most recently, the Devils. In junior terms, the original Jr. Senators opened up shop in 2003. Former Jr. Senator and Binghamton native Jerry D’Amigo moved on to a career of 398 AHL games and 33 NHL contests.
“One of the main reasons I was willing to take the job is I grew up in Binghamton and I want to give back to the community,” said Laganiére. “This is an amazing opportunity for young men.”
The opportunity is not just about the chance to make a run for a Silver Cup, of course. As with any junior hockey organization, development and advancement is the name of the game. The Jr. Senators are big fans of Lithuanian import Dominik Bogdziul, who rode a 135-point season in 2016-17 to a spot this year with the NAHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights.
“We had two players tendered into the NAHL, seven more players advanced on to NCAA and two players moved on to ACHA schools,” said Welsh.
Ryan Reifler, a ’99 from Binghamton, tendered with the Aberdeen Wings, of the NAHL, last season. He is back with the Senators for now, but “the Wings are keeping their eye on him,” said Welsh. That is especially true after Reifler started with 13 points in four games, after posting 113 regular season and playoff points last year.
Reifler is just one player who came back to the Senators after that big inaugural season in 2016-17. The team also returned leading scorer Brad Becker (13 points), Ryan Flanagan (11) and Hunter Kepple (five). The team is also excited about ’98 Geoffrey Lamorre, a new pickup for the Senators blue line.
“All around, I think we’re deeper in forwards this year. We can do a little work to pick up the defense,” said Welsh. “I think we’re going to make another run for the Cup.”
The Jr. Senators do a lot of recruiting during the off-season, going to events like the Pre-Draft and Chowder Cup tournaments in Massachusetts, as well as scouting NAHL tryout and main camps.
“We find we’re very successful with those players who want to play in the NAHL. The NA3HL put 56 players into the NAHL this year,” said Welsh. “We also have a lot of success in recruiting Midget AAA players. After the year we had last year, it wasn’t too hard recruiting for this year’s team.”
For more information on the Binghamton Jr. Senators, go online to jrsenators.na3hlleague.hockeytech.com/
Top photo: Ryan Flanagan, a ’97 from Duryea, Pa., is back as one of the NA3HL’s most dynamic offensive players, suiting up for the Binghamton Jr. Senators for his second season. [Courtesy Photo / Binghamton Jr. Senators]