In May 1993, the Rochester Americans trailed the Binghamton Rangers, three games to two, in the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs. The Rangers were especially eager to put the final nail in the Amerks' coffin; Rochester had bounced Binghamton from the playoffs the previous two seasons, and the Rangers --- not to mention their legions of fans in the Southern Tier --- were thirsting for revenge.
And even if the Amerks won at home in Game 6, they'd still have to travel to Binghamton for the deciding game, which would be played in front of thousands of rabid Rangers fans.
But Rochester pulled it off. The Amerks won at home, 7-5, then entered hostile territory and pulled out a 3-2 win to clinch the series --- and once again dash the hopes of the Binghamton faithful.
That series helped cement the Rochester-Binghamton rivalry as one of the most intense in the AHL, a rivalry that still thrives today. The Amerks have faced a few different Binghamton incarnations --- the Whalers, the Rangers, and now the Senators --- but the acrimony has always been there.
"There's great history there," says Amerks general manager Jody Gage, an Amerk Hall of Famer who took part in his fair share of Rochester-Binghamton clashes. "We've had some great battles." He then adds with a laugh, "I remember some great brawls, too."
That history is actively being passed down to newer generations of Amerks. Defenseman Brandon Smith, a three-year Rochester veteran, knows full well the gravity of the rivalry. "You have to prepare a little more (for Binghamton)," he says. "You have to finish every check. You have to be on top of your game."
The rivalry will be renewed this Saturday when the Senators arrive at Blue Cross Arena for their fourth game of the 2006-07 season against the Amerks. Although Binghamton leads the all-time regular-season series, 14-15-4, Rochester has won all three contests so far this year. On top of that, the Amerks have won five of seven playoff series against the various Binghamton teams.
The intensity of the rivalry might have peaked two years ago, when both teams were stocked with talented players who were forced to play at the AHL level thanks to the National Hockey League lockout. Binghamton and Rochester had two of the best teams in the league, and they played like it.
"There was a lot of skill and lot of toughness," says fourth-year Rochester winger Michael Ryan. "It seemed like there were four or five goals every game and four or five fights every game."
Ryan says the rivalry has become so huge largely because of each team's passionate fans. The loyal followers of both teams come from cities with storied hockey histories, and they expect big things from their hockey teams. It's that fan fervor that has stoked every Binghamton-Rochester showdown.
And, says former Amerks player and current coach Randy Cunneyworth, the teams usually give the fans what they want when they clash. "The games are always exciting for the fans," he says. "It's a battle every night."
Rochester shares another big rivalry with Syracuse, and because the Amerks and the Crunch are in the same division, at times that enmity carries a little more weight than the Binghamton one.
However, even though the Amerks and the Senators are now in different divisions, the two franchises have managed to retain their animosity for one another. The fact that the two teams are in different divisions might even make the Sens-Amerks rivalry that much more unique.
Even though Rochester has controlled the series so far this year, and even though the Amerks clearly have a better team than the Sens in 2006-07, this Saturday's game promises to live up to the rivalry's standards. Records, as they say, go out the window when Rochester and Binghamton meet.
"I don't know why it is or how it started," says Smith, "but they bring their best effort, and I'd like to think we do the same."
The Rochester Americans host the Binghamton Senators Saturday, December 16, at 7:35 p.m. at Blue Cross Arena. Tickets are $11, $15 and $19, and can be purchased at the BCA box office, through Ticketmaster, or by calling 454-5335.