Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Michael Sharp Interview

There have been many changes in the farm team this offseason and a lot of uncertainty. With training camp around the corner, we thought an interview with Binghamton Senators reporter Michael Sharp was in order. He joined us to give us some insight into the Baby Sens and to talk about some prospects we might see in Ottawa this year. Enjoy.

Thanks for joining us today, I appreciate the time.

Sens Town: So I know you're from Virginia, how did you get into hockey?

Michael Sharp: Well, I grew up a casual Caps fan. Mike Gartner, Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, Dino Ciccarelli. That old gang. But admittedly, I was always more of a Redskins fan. Then when I got to Cornell, I spent two seasons covering the team there and really got hooked that way.

ST: So going to Cornell, that's an Ivy league school with a pretty good hockey tradition. Did any NHLers pass through there in your time? I know you covered them for the university paper, how was that experience?

MS: Sharks defenseman Doug Murray was there as a freshman during my senior year, but the two years that I covered them were kind of rebuilding years for the Big Red. But they’ve obviously bounced back real well.

The experience of covering the team then – and really, just working for The Cornell Daily Sun in general – was one of the best of my life. I was an assistant sports editor, then sports editor for the paper, and basically, it’s a full-time job. Such a good learning experience. Such great friends. Such good times. (Even with the crazy hours). I really can’t imagine something preparing you better for a post-college job.

ST: So how did you end up covering hockey in Binghamton?

MS: The summer before my senior year at Cornell, I interned for the Star-Gazette, a Gannett paper in Elmira, N.Y. The internship went well, and at the end, they mentioned the city was getting a minor league hockey team in a year. So I stayed in touch, and worked a few Friday and Saturday nights taking high school calls that fall. And then that February of my senior year, I interviewed and was hired to cover the team – the United Hockey League’s Elmira Jackals.

In Elmira’s first two years, they played in the same conference as the Binghamton-based BC Icemen, before the AHL returned to Binghamton. And so I met, worked with and became friends with Binghamton’s beat writer at the time, Scott Lauber. We stayed in touch, and a few years later, he mentioned he was moving on to Wilmington, Del., to cover the Philadelphia Phillies. So I applied, and was fortunate enough to get the job. And here I am.

ST: The Baby Sens had a hot start last year but failed to make the playoffs. Would it be fair to say they choked?

MS: Yes and no.

Yes, they controlled their own destiny down the stretch and didn’t get it done. Including a brutal loss, at home, to a non-playoff team with their postseason lives on the line.
But I think calling it a “choke” doesn’t take into account all that this team had going against it over the course of the season. The B-Sens lost their top defenseman, Brendan Bell, as well as Brian Lee for much of the season. They lost their top forward, Ryan Shannon. They lost their first-half MVP and No. 1 goalie, Brian Elliott. And they lost their head coach, Cory Clouston. All to Ottawa.

At some point, that’s bound to catch up with a team. And I think, to a large extent – along with some key injuries – that happened down the stretch.

ST: Ok so let's talk about this season. What do you think about the new head coach Don Nachbaur? Had a chance to talk to him yet?

MS: Just once, when he was introduced back in July. He’ll be in town this coming week for an event with the fans and the media, so I look forward to talking with him more then. It’s probably too early to tell just how he’ll do, but the early reviews seem positive, he came across real well in his introductory conference call, and the players seemed to like the hiring.

ST: So it seems that Bryan Murray spent considerable amount of time this offseason trying to upgrade and replenish the farm team. What did you think of all the signings he made?

MS: They definitely made a splash right off the bat, signing Martin St. Pierre and Mike Brodeur early on. St. Pierre is a standout forward at this level, and Brodeur was an all-star goalie with Rochester last season. So that was a good start.

I would have liked to see them add another top-four defenseman. Drew Bannister seems like he’ll certainly help fill one of those spots, but he’s spent the last seven seasons in Europe, so he’s something of an unknown at this point. Over the last two years, Binghamton has opened first with Lawrence Nycholat, then Brendan Bell on the back end. I don’t necessarily see that sort of elite (for the AHL) presence just yet.

But again, there are a few unknowns back there on the blue line, and the B-Sens do have a nice start by returning the Matt Carkner-Derek Smith pairing.

ST: With Brian Elliott newly signed, he will be up in Ottawa from now on, but there will be 3 very capable goalies vying for playing time down in Bingo. How do you see that playing out?

MS: That should definitely be one of the more intriguing storylines off the start here. Based on contracts, I’d imagine that Brodeur and Andy Chiodo will get the first shots at the Binghamton roster. (They’re both on two-way deals). But Chris Holt put up some impressive numbers with Peoria last year, so I imagine he’s going to factor in at some point as well. However it plays out, the depth and overall quality of the position have definitely been upgraded this summer.

ST: What 2 or 3 players that played in Bingo last season, do you think have a real shot at making the Sens this year? People have high hopes for Peter Regin and Zach Smith around here.

MS: I think you hit the nail on the head with those two names. Regin has a ton of skill, and Zack Smith seems like he just has that great combination of offensive skill and size, plus that edge, that willingness to get his nose dirty and fight. I think the key for Regin will be staying healthy and getting stronger, and I think the key for Smith will be consistency. He got off to a flying start last year, then sort of disappeared for a bit. They were both coming on strong at the end, though, and I think both are nice young prospects.

Another guy Ottawa seemed pretty high on this offseason was Geoff Kinrade, a 24-year-old defenseman who spent time with Norfolk after finishing up at Michigan Tech last spring. He also had a game with Tampa Bay, and Senators officials seem to like his potential.

ST: How do you think the Baby Sens will do this year?

MS: It’s really tough to predict anything at the AHL level, as we saw last year. This team started so well, then a combination of injuries and call-ups kind of did them in. It’s such a long season, and so much is out of their hands so to speak, that I’ve given up on the predicting game.

It would be nice if they made the playoffs, considering it’s been four years, and considering this fan base has been a bit frustrated for a while now. I think the goaltending is improved. The offense seems solid. I’d say the big wild card off the bat will be the defense.

ST: What's the level of popularity in upstate NY for the Baby Sens? Do you sell out? Are tickets hard to get? Is there a good atmosphere at the games? Are the fans knowledgeable?

MS: The team definitely has a nice, passionate fan base. It makes my job a lot of fun when, in the middle of July, I can throw a post up on the blog, and it gets a bunch of comments right away. They know their hockey, and they like talking about their hockey. The games sell out a handful of times each year, but more often than not, you can get a ticket. And from everything I’ve been told, it’s a great place to see playoff hockey

ST: And finally, what would be your dream job in hockey if you had your pick?

MS: That’s a tough one. I’m going to be in trouble with the fans (and my editors) if I say anything other than Binghamton, right? I’ll just say that I grew up in northern Virginia, and it’s been a dream of mine since the second grade to write for The Washington Post one day. So, let’s go with that one. Plus, hey, I hear that team in DC has a promising young forward who just might make a name for himself one day, right?

ST: Thanks again for joining us Mike, hopefully we can do it again and keep in touch during the season. Any final words?

MS: Just that I appreciate very much the chance to talk with you. And let’s get this hockey season going already.

Michael Sharp is the official blogger/beat reporter for the Binghamton Senators. You can read his blog by clicking here. I highly recommend checking it out for all of your Baby Sens news.

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