With the Springfield Falcons moving to Tucson, Arizona, a new era of hockey has begun in the City Of Springfield.
Head Coach: It will be the inaugural year for the Springfield Thunderbirds after moving from Portland, ME. Geordie Kinnear will be a first-year Head Coach in the American Hockey League for the Springfield Thunderbirds. Kinnear served as an Assistant Coach for the Albany River Rats and the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. His record last season with the Charlotte Checkers was 36-32-5-3.
Captain: To be announced.
Last Season: The Portland Pirates finished the regular season with a record of 41-27-6-2, finishing fourth in the Atlantic Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference. The Pirates were eliminated in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs by the Hershey Bears.
Forward Rob Schremp returned to the AHL after playing over in Europe for four seasons. Schremp led the Pirates with 21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points.
Goaltender Mike McKenna would have a stellar year. McKenna ranked 12th with 2.45 GAA and a save percentage of .921. He would rank second in the AHL among goalies in wins with 33.
Hot or Not?
A key addition for the Thunderbirds this season is goaltender Reto Berra. Berra has played in the National Hockey League for Calgary and Colorado. With his NHL experience, he could be an asset between the pipes for Springfield.
One of the things Springfield has lacked is a potent goal scorer. The last time a player in Springfield scored 30 or more goals in a season was Ryan Potulny (38 goals) back in 2007-08. During the Springfield Falcons 2015-16 campaign, Greg Carey led the team in goals with 26.
Rihards Bukarts is a promising young player that has joined the Thunderbirds for the upcoming season, his first as a pro. In the 2015-16 Western Hockey League season with the Brandon Wheat Kings and Portland Winterhawks, he scored 31 goals. If he continues to develop, he could be that scoring threat that this team needs.
Jakub Kindl brings a stabilizing, veteran presence to the blue line. Kindl played six seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, and their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for eight years. The Thunderbirds have a lot of youth in their defensive unit, and a strong leader like Kindl could be very beneficial in their development.
Goaltender Mike McKenna will play for the Springfield Thunderbirds this season after playing for the Portland Pirates during the 2015-16 campaign. This will be the second team McKenna has played for in Springfield as he played for the Springfield Falcons during the 2013-14 schedule.
Center Kyle Rau joins the Thunderbirds as well after a solid year in Portland. In 63 games, Rau would score 17 goals and collect 14 assists for 31 points. Rau played in nine games for the Florida Panthers during the 2015-16 year.
Defensemen Brent Regner will return for his eighth season in the AHL. He played for the Portland Pirates in 65 games and scored five goals and collected 18 assists for 23 points.
Rob Schremp is now playing for the Langnau Tigers in the Swiss-A League. Schremp played in Springfield for two seasons.
Rocco Grimaldi was traded to the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers would get goaltender Reto Berra. Berra was sent to Springfield by the Florida Panthers after clearing waivers.
Last weekend the Springfield Thunderbirds NHL affiliate, the Florida Panthers, announced that they acquired Tim Bozon from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for defensemen Jonathan Racine. Bozon played in 41 games during the 2015-16 year with the St. John’s Ice Caps in the AHL scoring five goals and collecting three assists and in 15 games in the East Coast Hockey League with the Brampton Beast where he scored three goals and collected six assists.
Paul Thompson comes to the Thunderbirds after playing with the Albany Devils in the AHL for the last two seasons. Thompson played in 30 games for the Springfield Falcons back in the 2013-2014 campaign scoring four goals and collecting four assists.
Movin’ On Up
One player that has already made the Florida Panthers roster is forward Shane Harper. Harper played in 59 games for Portland last season, amassing 12 goals and 25 helpers.
Logan Shaw tallied seven points in 53 games with Florida last season but will start this year in Springfield. However, it’s very possible that he sees considerable playing time with the parent club again, which is something to keep an eye on.
Another player that could get a call-up this season is defensemen Brent Regner, who had a brief cup of coffee with Florida last season, appearing in seven NHL contests.
[Sin Bin Swami Says… With a deep, young team, coupled with solid goaltending, the Thunderbirds should have a strong season. My prediction is the Thunderbirds will finish third in the Atlantic Division and will go to the Eastern Conference Finals in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. The Thunderbirds will play in their inaugural game on the road this Saturday night against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, before heading to Bridgeport on Sunday to square off against the Sound Tigers.