AHL leading playoff scorer Ryan Potulny of the Eastern Conference champion Binghamton Senators joined TheAHL.com on Tuesday afternoon to answer fans’ questions as submitted on the AHL’s Official Facebook Page… Ryan’s responses are below:
What do you recall about scoring the goal in the five-overtime game in 2008 in Albany, and can you talk about the atmosphere on the bench and in the locker room as that game went on and on? – Keith from Connecticut
As the game went on, I think the harder part was staying mentally focused. I know guys were drained, and your body was wearing down on you, but mentally you don’t want to be the one guy who has one mistake and the puck’s in the back of your net. We talked about being mentally sharp the whole game. In between periods we were eating pizza, some guys were getting IV’s put in them because they were cramping up so bad. We were pretty much doing anything we could to find some energy and stick with it.
(The goal) was quite a few mixes of emotions. At first it was excitement and almost disbelief that it went in, and I think right after that was relief. The guys looked around and said finally. We didn’t know if this game was ever going to be done. We put a lot of pucks at (Michael) Leighton in that game, and he just stood on his head. It could have gone either way.
Are overtime games in the playoffs as nerve-wracking for players on the bench as they can be for fans in the stands or watching at home? – Tim from Massachusetts
You know what, I think it’s probably harder for the fans and maybe for the coaches because they don’t have control over what’s going on. They just sit there and it’s out of their hands, they’re watching the game. For players, you have control of the game a little bit in your hands when you go out for a shift. It is nerve-wracking, but I think the team that can stay the most even-keeled and keep their heads focused is usually the team that prevails.
On game days, what is your typical preparation routine in order to get yourself ready and motivated for the game? – Andrew from Pennsylvania
Usually we’ll go into the rink in the morning around 9:15, and we’ll have a couple meetings in the morning on our opponent, what their tendencies are. Then we’ll go on the ice for a short skate. After that we’ll grab lunch. If we’re on the road we have a team meal, and if we’re at home you’re on your own. Guys tend to go to the same spot a lot. After that you go home and try to take a nap. I’m not a big nap guy, I like to call it. I joke around with my buddies that I take a fake nap – I lay there and turn the TV off and try to sleep, but usually I can’t. I don’t know if it’s nerves about the game or just the way it is.
Then you wake up, get ready, and head to the rink. You have to be there by 5, but I like to get there around 4, 4:15, a little earlier, and that’s really when you start getting ready for the game. I know mentally, all day you’re starting to think about it, but when you get to the rink is really when you start preparing for the game.
Do you have a preference on who you guys play in the Finals based on the winner of Game 7 between Houston and Hamilton? Do you know much about either team? – Joshua from Ottawa
We don’t have a preference right now – we’d just like to know who it is, I guess. One of the good things about not knowing your opponent is you don’t have to overthink things too much. Sometimes if you know your opponent too early you try to overthink things, try to figure them out too much where you forget about relying on yourself and what you do best as a team. We’re focusing on ourselves right now, but it looks like they both have been playing some pretty good hockey lately. So we don’t have a preference, but we just want to find out who it is.
Can you describe what it’s been like for you this season, beginning the year in Rockford, getting traded midseason, spending some time in the NHL, and now you’re about to play for the Calder Cup? – Don from Texas
It’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster season for me. In Rockford there, we had a pretty young team. It was fun with the guys there watching guys as the year goes on, but it’s tough after Christmastime when you’re looking at the standings and you’re sitting at the bottom. It’s a tough thing to do. Then getting traded and getting some NHL games was good for me.
And coming here to Binghamton and just watch how the team has come together here in the playoffs, and getting the chance to play for the Calder Cup – not many people can say that they’ve done that. And the guys that have done it, I think you gain a whole new respect for them once you realize what it takes to get here.
As a new guy coming in midway through the season, how do you feel about the atmosphere inside an older building like the Veterans Memorial Arena? How much does the team feed off the crowd? – Jake from Harpursville, NY
We’ve actually talked about that a lot, how it gets so loud in there because it seems like the fans are right on top of you in that old building. The way the fans have come together and gotten behind us in this playoff push is pretty special. I know we can hear them on the ice when they’re chanting – they always do the “Let’s go Sens!” chant, and we can hear that one all the time. Not only the fans at the arena, but even around the community the way they’ve gotten behind us and really backed us is really special. We realize how important this is to this town also.
You weren’t here for any of it, but this is a Senators team that had missed the playoffs for five straight seasons prior to this year… Do you guys get a sense of the excitement around town for this deep playoff run? – Joe from Binghamton, NY
We do. We talk about that in the locker room, how special it is. We had a team meal last night, and one of the owners stood up and talked about how he hears people around town, how excited they are for this team and how badly they’ve wanted a team to do well in the playoffs over the past few years, but it just hasn’t worked out. That’s one thing we understand, how special it is to this city.
After arriving in Binghamton late in the season, did you envision yourself becoming such a major part of the offense so quickly and having such a big impact in this postseason run? What has that been like for you? – Ben from Endwell, NY
Yeah, you know, I’ve always felt that I can contribute offensively here in the AHL, and I’ve shown that in the past. But a lot of it also is getting a chance and getting opportunity. And (coach) Kurt (Kleinendorst) has done a great job of putting me in an opportunity to succeed – playing power play, playing penalty kill, playing a lot of minutes. I’ve played with Ryan Keller on my right side throughout the whole playoffs, and with Zack Smith in most of the playoffs. Playing with those two guys, it helps me and makes it easier on me to be successful also.
What do you think are some of the keys to the team’s impressive road record during these playoffs? Are you guys happy that you’ll be starting on the road for the fourth consecutive series once the Finals start? – Andrew from Ottawa
I’d say we’re prepared to play on the road – I don’t know if you’re ever happy. The way our fans have been, it’s been a treat to come back home and play in front of them. The success we’ve had I think has been a result of the way coach has prepared us to play on the road. When you’re on the road, sometimes you play a little more safe with the puck, you make high-percentage plays, try and get pucks deep and play a little more simple. Usually when you do that in the playoffs, you can be successful.
I was at Game 3 of the Manchester series when the B-Sens blew a 3-0 lead and lost in overtime. What were the keys to recovering from that loss and coming back from the 3-1 deficit in that series? Were Games 5, 6, and 7 of that series the most exhausting games of your life? – Hal from Endicott, NY
I think that’s something special about our team – we don’t get too high on ourselves when we get a big win or get too low on ourselves. It would have been easy in that series after losing a game like that or going down 3-1, to just give up. We don’t do that. We play our best hockey when we go out and just take it one game at a time. That’s what our coach has preached hard and gotten into our brains – one period at a time, one game at a time, and the older guys have tried to push that. Everyone’s sort of followed that and just bought into the system.
Looking back on it, yes they were pretty tiring. Like I said, I think it’s because mentally you have to be so sharp every shift in overtime, so that takes a toll on you also. But you prepare for it, you condition for it all season, and it’s almost like you get a second wind when you get into the playoffs and then get into overtime, you dig down deep somewhere to find some energy.
How has the team benefited from getting a handful of guys back from Ottawa at the end of the regular season – guys like Butler, Greening, Zack Smith, and others – and did it take some time for that group to re-adjust when they came back? – Kevin from Massachusetts
I don’t know if it took them time to re-adjust, but I think with the new lines we had for the first couple games, it took everyone a little time to re-adjust. But the good thing that they did when they came down was they bought into our system right away. Coming down from the NHL, it can be easy for guys to just do their own thing or be on their own page because they played in the NHL. But these guys came down, really bought into our system, play a great team game, and have helped us be successful.
You guys seemed to have a pretty compacted schedule throughout the playoffs but will have been off for more than a week by the time the Finals start. How has the team dealt with the layoff, and how much of an affect do you think it’ll have at the start of Game 1? – Jared from Massachusetts
We took a couple days off after the last series there to rest your body up, kind of relax and stay away from the rink. But after that we got back to work, and Kurt’s done a good job of preparing us and making sure that the practices are high intensity, lot of skating drills, make sure we’re sharp.
And actually today we played a little inter-squad game. We have enough players where we had two lines on each bench, half of the guys wore our home jerseys and half the guys wore our road jerseys. We tried to make it as game-like as we could – we went out for warm-ups, came off, and then went back out and played two 25-minute periods with running time. There were some fans at the game who came out to watch and support us. I think that will help us out to keep things more game-like. But once Game 1 comes, it’s the Calder Cup Finals, so we’ll be ready for it.