As fans of the Albany River Rats come to grips with the loss of their local hockey team, the players and coaches also must cope.
Assistant coach Geordie Kinnear is in his seventh season behind the bench in Albany. He also logged seven seasons worth of ice time as a River Rats player, and is a member of the team’s first Hall of Fame class.
“It’ll be very, very tough,” Kinnear said of leaving Albany. “All my kids have been raised here. This is my second hometown and always will be. We’ve made a lot of great friends, and the fans have been wonderful to me and my family for my whole career.”
Kinnear, his wife Lorraine, children Avery (9), Landon (6) and Cade (1) will be packing up with the rest of the River Rats and moving to the Charlotte, N.C., area when the 2009-2010 campaign ends.
That campaign continues tonight as Albany hosts Hershey and Saturday, when the River Rats host Binghamton. Both games will start at 7.
Albany head coach Jeff Daniels said news of the sale and move won’t distract the team from business at hand.
“It doesn’t change our thinking toward this year,” Daniels said. “We’re still focused on getting the job done here.”
Daniels said he’s enjoyed his time in Albany, and hopes the city can lure another team to play in the Times Union Center.
“It’s disappointing. I’ve had two years here, and it’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “Hopefully, things work out and another team comes in here because they definitely deserve a minor-league team here. The fans deserve it, the city deserves it.”
Defenseman Bryan Rodney is in his third season with Albany. He also has played part of two seasons with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers.
Despite his familiarity with Charlotte, he said he is sad to leave Albany behind for a couple reasons.
“It’s a great place to play. Geographically speaking, we don’t have a lot of long road trips. We’re fairly close to all the teams we play,” he said. “Over the last couple years, I’ve really enjoyed my time here. To hear the team is moving, it’s sad, but it’s another opportunity for another team to come in here and enjoy the experiences we’ve had.”
Sentiment aside, it will be a good opportunity for the players, being just a couple hours down the road from the parent club Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
“It gives you a taste of the NHL without actually being there,” Kinnear said. “These guys are hungry to get there, but it adds that element that, they’re just down the road, you’re always reading in the paper what they’re doing. It’s that close. It gives them a little extra motivation, and keeps them in touch with what the big club’s doing.”
The forward-thinking Kinnear said he doesn’t often dwell on the past, but looks to the future. In a business that doesn’t always afford players and coaches a chance to settle into a community, that approach becomes a necessity.
“This business is always happy-sad,” he said. “You play with your teammates all the time, you’re friends, then they’re on another team, they get traded or you’re coaching with someone and they get fired, then someone new comes in. It’s always happy-sad. I’m going to be sad I’ll be leaving, but also happy to have a new adventure.”
The last two times Hershey has played Albany, the Bears have won handily — 10-4 and 8-3. After scoring the equalizer in regulation Wednesday in Binghamton, forward Nick Dodge said the Rats took a good step toward playing as well as they had been. Playing Hershey tonight, he said, and the motivation that comes with this game, could help them take the next step.
“It’s a team that’s embarrassed us the last two times we’ve played them,” Dodge said. “It’s a team we’re going to have to beat in the future. We’re hoping we’ll see them in the playoffs. It’s a good test for us, and I think we’ll be up for it and ready to go.”
“They played a lot more hungry than we did in the last two games, and the result showed,” Rodney said. “It’s not like we’ve got payback in store, but we know if we’re not ready, it’s going to be a long night. I expect us to be focused, to be sharp and give them a good run.”