The Black & Green Brotherhood - A championship retrospective

by Brooks Hill

From the desk of Brooks Hill:

The ice has been melted, locker room cleaned out, and many of the players have started to make their way home. All of which point to the signs of the time, the off-season. Less than a week ago, the horn sounded, confetti popped, and the biggest celebration this town has seen in quite a while took place. The Binghamton Black Bears are the 2024 Commissioners Cup Champions, but the story did not start last Friday night. It began over eight months ago when the foundation for this magical season was laid.

Head Coach Brant Sherwood was on the recruiting trail all summer, having conversations with the who we would come to know as Black Bears in the fall. After a free agent camp in the suburbs of Chicago, it was time to gear-up for the upcoming season back home in Binghamton.

40 players, hailing from all across the world, made their way into town and started practices over at the nearby Chenango Ice House. As October 14th quickly approached, the roster was trimmed, tickets were sold, and in the blink of an eye, Opening Night was here.  The Black Bears named Tyson Kirkby as their captain, the second in franchise history, and placed Jesse Anderson and JT Walters as assistant captains.

An Elmira River Sharks club led by former Black Bear Tyler Gjurich, attempted to play spoiler as they swam into Visions Veterans Memorial Arena. Six different Black Bears that night recorded a multi-point game and secured the first of 39 regular season wins for the championship team. Binghamton was sitting above .500 when the calendar turned to November, which would lead to the first of seven regular season sell-outs. The Carolina Thunderbirds rolled into town with a packed house looking on. While the Black Bears did lose the game that night, they showed the faithful that did not leave early, that they were a resilient bunch. Binghamton scored twice with the net empty with two minutes left in regulation. Even though they only came away with one point, that game was the spark that ignited the fire, for what would become 20 come-from-behind victories for this team. Binghamton flying out the gate, earned at least one point in each of their first 10 games; another franchise milestone.

The rookies continued to shine in December. Goaltender, Connor McAnanama recorded his first of two shutouts on the 16th. McAnanama recorded an assist on the first goal of the night, only to do it again on December 23rd, but as a forward, not a goalie.  By the end of the 2023 calendar year, the Black Bears had completed three, five-game win streaks.

In 2024, it appeared that not much changed for Binghamton.  The Black Bears cruised by the River Sharks on First Responders Night, another sellout, and would prepare for what would be their hardest road trip of the season. During the span of February 9-11th the Black Bears played three games in two different states, the final two less than 18 hours apart from horn to puck drop. While that weekend did not go according to plan, Binghamton responded with another four-game win streak. To kick-off that win streak, Connor Smith, who finished the season second on the team in goals, became the first Black Bear to score four goals in a single game.

As Spring rolled around and the "collegiate signee" portion of the season began, reinforcements joined the Black Bears ranks. Andrew Uturo was first and scored in his first two games with the club. Other notables who joined were Cam Clark, Blake Tosto, Brodie Thornton, Scott Ramaekers, all of which contributed to the success and development of the team.

From this broadcaster's point of view, the February 24th game against Watertown was the defining point of the season. Down by four goals in the third period, Binghamton refused to throw in the towel. Goals from Andrew Logar, JT Walters, Smith, and Kirkby sent the game to overtime, where the "cowboy" hit his mark in the shootout, completing the largest comeback in organization history. The rally chair 2.0 was introduced, and the Black Bears continued with their winning ways.

St Patty's weekend was one of the most dominating weekends that the FPHL had ever seen. Over a span of three days, the Black Bears outscored Mississippi and Elmira 27-2.  After an amazing Sock Out Cancer Night, doubt peaked its ugly head in the door. For the first time all season, the Black Bears lost four games in a row. While some smashed the panic button, others inside the room remained calm.

Binghamton closed out the regular season winning their final six games, including a fabulous Whalers Throwback Night, where all the special merchandise sold out within eight minutes of the doors opening.

The quest for the cup began with a first-round matchup against Watertown for the second-straight season. After the first period of the first game, the Black Bears were down 0-2. Not ideal and not what anybody was expecting after the team had won the division with a whole month left in the season. Kyle Stephan started the rally, and Dakota Bohn placed the exclamation point on the final goal of the night, as Binghamton stormed back and won 4-2. A lopsided victory in game two set Binghamton to the second round where they would take on Motor City.

The Rockers proved to be tough, as both games were a one-goal contest. Binghamton was able to hang on to their lead up in Michigan to steal game one, and Austin Thompson scored the game-winning goal in OT sending the Black Bears to their first ever Commissioners Cup Final.

Binghamton was able to sweep the first two games of the Finals down in Winston-Salem, NC, setting the stage for the magical night that would be May 10th, 2024. For the first time ever, the Black Bears sold out a playoff game and a Binghamton professional hockey team had the opportunity to clinch the title on home ice. Carolina was red-hot to begin, but Don Olivieri gave the home team life before the opening period ended. Mathieu Boislard tied the game at 2-2 with his first of the postseason and soon-to-be-named playoff MVP, Gavin Yates, scored the go-ahead goal. Thompson added an empty netter, and the Black Bears celebrated, as the horn sounded.

Mission Accomplished!

Having a birds-eye view for the season is truly a great opportunity and honor to have. Working with the front office and the traveling party gives you two sets of accomplishments to be proud of.

2024 Commissioners Cup Champions 

7 league award recipients, the most of any FPHL organization

Defenseman of the Year - Dakota Bohn

Empire Division All-Stars - Tyson Kirkby & Connor McAnanama

Empire Division Rookie All-Stars - Connor Smith & Dan Stone

Executive of the Year - Andreas Johansson 

Broadcaster of the Year - Brooks Hill 

  • 7 regular season sellouts (most since 04-05 B-Sens)
    • 1 playoff sellout
  • 124,443 total attendance throughout the season (FPHL league record, 4,014 per game)
  • 6 specialty jersey nights
  • 13 wins in a row including playoffs.
  • 1st team in FPHL history to go 7-0-0 in the postseason.
  • Averaged 5.86 goals per game at home (2nd all-time in BING history) and only allowed 2.29 (1st)
  • Only 3 goalies appeared in net for Binghamton this season. (McAnanama, Egbert & Livecchi)
  • 4 players lifted the trophy who have appear in all three seasons (Boislard, Fitzgerald, Kirkby & Yates)
  • 14 players were around from training camp till triple zeros on the scoreboard (J. Anderson, L. Anderson, Boislard, Egbert, Fletcher, Kirkby, Logar, McAnanama, Smith, Somero, Stone, Thompson, Walters & Wieber)

The offseason will be a month shorter thanks to the hard work and dedication from Coach Sherwood and the players. Now, Binghamton will try to do the hardest thing in professional sports and defend their title in the 2024-25 season.

Special thanks to binghamtonhockey.net for contributing stats to this article.