Fans filed into the Visions Veterans Memorial Arena on Nov. 6 to watch the Binghamton Black Bears’ first hockey game in front of a home crowd. The sold-out arena had deafening crowds who jumped to their feet when Binghamton defeated the Delaware Thunder.
The expansion team had its first home game at the arena, which has been closed to the public for the last 609 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Binghamton Black Bears are the latest hockey team to come to Binghamton after an official announcement on May 12, 2021, stating that the team was slated to replace the Binghamton Devils, which moved to Utica less than a week earlier.
The night began with a slow start as crowds waited patiently in long lines inside the halls of the arena. Earlier in the afternoon, Ticketmaster crashed and the arena’s printers were experiencing technical difficulties. The problem was eventually resolved with the help of the general manager, office workers and Binghamton University interns for the team.
People headed into the stands with their tickets in hand and the team entered the rink along with music and cheers. Shortly after 7 p.m., the players positioned themselves for the face-off and the first period began.
The first goal was scored within three minutes and five seconds into the game by Kyle Stevens, a 26-year-old forward from Boston. Stevens has been playing hockey since he was four, and the Binghamton Black Bears recently picked him up in a draft.
“There was an expansion draft when [the Elmira Enforcers] folded and [the Binghamton Black Bears] picked me up and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to come,” Stevens said. “I ended up choosing here because it has a great background. I’ve heard good things about the city, and it’s been amazing since I’ve been here.”
Less than two minutes after Stevens’ goal, which was assisted by forwards Sam Holeczy and Egor Borshchev, Binghamton earned another point and took a 2-0 lead. Defender Kyle Powell scored the goal, assisted by forwards Nikita Ivashkin and Josh Newberg.
Newberg, a 34-year-old center from New Jersey, said he enjoys the energy and dynamic with his teammates and coach.
“Practices are fun,” Newberg said. “I think everybody has high energy. There’s a lot of young guys here and [head coach Rod Davidson] brings a lot of experience, but he still lets us figure things out on our own, so I really like that dynamic we have going on here.”
Davidson was hired after a conference call in August. Davidson said Newberg is a hard worker and has been the team’s leader playing different roles for multiple minutes. He also described his coaching style as motivating but laid-back at the same time.
“I try to be a calming influence behind the bench,” Davidson said. “More motivation than the most, I would say.”
Davidson also acknowledged the work of goalkeeper Joe Sheppard, who has been guarding the net for the past few games. Sheppard blocked all the pucks shot at him until the end of the first period when the Thunder scored.
The BU Kickline performed during the intermission between the first and second periods. The team danced on the regular ground by the concessions and merchandise for fans to watch as they bought a mid-game snack.
The stands were filled with other BU organizations and students who wanted to check out the game, such as members from the Binghamton Cheese Club. After the game, Cheese Club intern Julia DeMola took the organization onto the rink to capture a picture of them as they held a banner and smiled for the camera.
Adam Assou, a junior majoring in biology, also attended the game with his friends and ended up being spotted by the Dance Cam during the game.
“My friends and I were probably the loudest people in the row,” Assou said. “We managed to be on the Jumbotron twice actually, just because of our sheer excitement for the Binghamton Black Bears.”
Davidson seemed pleased with the attendees’ engagement in the intermission activities, such as the Dance Cam and a game where fans attempted to throw hockey pucks into the trunk of an ATV for a chance to win it.
“I loved the excitement of the video board presentation,” Davidson said. “The fans were really into the game. Hopefully, the excitement continues to build and our energy is strong.”
The Black Bears entered the second period with a 2-1 lead, but the Delaware Thunder tied the game early into the period. The pressure was on when Black Bears forward Gavin Yates shot at the goalie with a power play and scored. Yates and a few of his teammates embraced in a celebratory hug before returning their focus to the game at play.
Ivashkin earned a goal for Binghamton, doubling the lead once again. Delaware scored shortly after and brought the score to 4-3, but Ivashkin scored again for the Black Bears. The Thunder responded and shrunk Binghamton’s lead with under five minutes left in the period.
Yates and Powell shot the puck to no avail as the clock ticked down, ending the second period with a 5-4 advantage for Binghamton.
Throughout the game, there were multiple fights between players on the opposing teams. The crowd encouraged it with chants of “Let them fight” and roaring cheers whenever the Thunder’s players were taken off the rink.
The tension was high with the pressure on defense for Binghamton in the last period. The aggression between the teams escalated and peaked when Delaware’s goalkeeper knocked over Ivashkin. Fans booed and banged on the glass, but the teams were back to skating across the rink with hopes of scoring another goal.
The crowd kept the energy alive and began a wave, which made a few laps around the stands. The arena also played songs such as “Sweet Caroline” and “Y.M.C.A.,” which fans happily sang along to.
In the end, neither team scored in the third period and the Binghamton Black Bears won with a final score of 5-4. Everyone in the crowd jumped to their feet, and the arena was filled with whoops and horns blasted as the team embraced in a big group hug.
After the back-to-back wins, Binghamton seems to be heading in a positive direction. Stevens is confident in the team’s abilities and future season.
“I know we probably surprise a lot of people, but I’m never surprised when we win,” Stevens said. “I bet we will finish in the top of the league and hopefully get a good spot for playoffs and everything.”
Music could be heard in the locker rooms as the players celebrated their win together. Fans waited outside the locker room with hopes of signatures, and the goalie came out to greet some.
The team was not the only winners Saturday night, as everyone in attendance that was 21 years and older received a ticket for a free drink at The Red Jug Pub in Downtown Binghamton. This deal, along with multiple other raffles, occurs with every home game.
The next home game for the Binghamton Black Bears is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13. against the Watertown Wolves. The matchup is set to begin at 7 p.m. at the Visions Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, New York.