by Rob Lippolis

BINGHAMTON- The first round of the FPHL's Commissioner's Cup Playoffs will start Wednesday evening as No. 2 Columbus travels to Michigan, to take on No. 3 Motor City in the Continental side of the bracket.  The Black Bears will get their turn Friday night at 7:35P.M. as they take on the No. 3 Watertown Wolves in a best of three series.

Binghamton will be returning to the playoffs for the second-straight year as the No. 2 seed in the Empire Division with a record of 36-15-5 and 110 points.  The defending-champion Wolves finished the regular season with 57 points and a record of 20-32-4.  Watertown has the most turnover on their roster among the eight teams competing in the playoffs.  There are no players from the 2022 championship game remaining on Watertown's roster.  Binghamton, however, returns eight players who faced off with Danbury in their inaugural playoff series.  Former Wolves player & coach, Justin Coachman, will play against his former team in the playoffs for the first time in his career.  

The Wolves are led offensively by Elijah Wilson, who has 40 points in 42 games this year.  Trevor Lord is Watertown's workhorse, playing in 55 of 56 games this season, while finishing second on the team in points with 33.  Special teams have been disappointing for Watertown this year, as they finished 10th in the league in power play %, converting at 14% success rate. The penalty kill is tied with Binghamton at 82% in the middle of the pack.  

Former Black Bear, Owen Liskiewicz has played the most games in net for Watertown this season, most recently sharing time with Adam Wisco and Ismael Ralsten.  All three goaltenders are eligible to play this postseason, and although you could make a case for all three starting, my guess is Liskiewicz will start game one in Watertown due to his experience and 8-15-0 record this season since being traded to Watertown early in the year.     

Watertown will be without some of their goal-scorers this weekend, Mathias Tellstrom (suspension), Samuel Hrabcak (IR), Matt Brown(IR), and Fabian Lehner(IR) combined for 43 goals and 47 assists between the four.  

The two sides played eight times this season with Binghamton dominating the series with a 7-1-0 record.  The lone Watertown victory came on December 16th (5-2).  The Black Bears outscored the Wolves 43-18 across the eight-game set, including two shutout victories from Riley McVeigh.  

Binghamton finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak, and scored the most goals in the FPHL this year with 285.  The Black Bears goal differential finished at +90, while the Wolves ended at -57.  In the final 10 games before the playoffs, Binghamton finished 8-1-1, Watertown 3-6-1.  

Tyler Gjurich, after a record-breaking season, leads the Black Bears into the playoffs in terms of scoring with 32 goals and 69 points.  Gavin Yates finished as the top helper this year, recording a career-high 38 assists.  Tyson Kirkby delivered a 30-goal season playing in 50 of 56 games this year.  First-year players, Austin Thompson, Chad Lopez, Mac Lewis showcased their capabilities to add to the depth scoring throughout the season while other players were out of the lineup. 

Late season additions to the Black Bears roster were all able to meet the requirements for qualifying for the playoffs.  Don Olivieri, Andrew Logar, Jestin Somero, Connor Smith, and Brenden Stanko are all available for Coach Sherwood to slot into the lineup.

Round One Playoff Schedule:

Game 1: Binghamton vs Watertown 7:35P.M. (Watertown Municipal Arena) Watertown Municipal Arena Tickets 

Game 2: Watertown vs Binghamton 7:00P.M. (Visions Veterans Memorial Arena) Tickets

Game 3:  *(If necessary) Watertown vs Binghamton 6:00P.M. (Visions Veterans Memorial Arena) Tickets