SPRINGFIELD, MA – It has been a topsy-turvy offseason for hockey fans in Springfield, MA, the home of the American Hockey League headquarters. The Falcons were sold to the Arizona Coyotes and moved to Tucson, then, a group of local investors purchased the Portland Pirates franchise and moved it to town for the coming season.
The group of investors is led by businessman Paul Picknelly, who has been on record by saying business leaders have been frustrated by with business leaving the city. In Picknelly’s opinion, losing hockey in the City Of Springfield would of been devastating. So, he got involved and tried to see what could be done about it and by saving hockey in the market, it will become an important cog in the city’s $2.5 billion dollars in economic development with the MGM Casino in Springfield, MA being part of the big economic plan.
The good news for the fans in Springfield and in the Western Massachusetts, the tradition of AHL hockey will continue in Springfield.
Since the move and purchase were announced, the team has been very busy. They held a “name the team” contest, unveiled a logo, uniforms and a mascot. It has been a very tight process for the team as they were under deadlines from the American Hockey League to come up with a name and a logo and uniforms.
Thunderbirds Executive Vice President Nate Costa‘s vision of the franchise is to recognize the past of Springfield and recognizing the rich hockey history. In addition with two Air Forces Bases with Barnes 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard in Westfield, MA and Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, MA. With a big military population in Western Massachusetts and to have a combination of all three of how they could come up with a name to really identify some of the main pillars here in Springfield.
Springfield has always had a rich hockey history that dates back for many decades. The Springfield Indians started playing in the AHL back in 1936. The Indians would win three AHL Calder Cup Championships from 1959-1962. The Springfield Indians would become the Springfield Kings back in 1967. The Kings would win the Calder Cup in the 1970-1971 season. The Kings would go back to being the Springfield Indians in 1975 and win the Calder Cup that same year. The Indians would win back to back Calder Cups in 1989-1990 and 1990-1991. The Indians were sold and relocated to Worcester. MA to become the Worcester Icecats. The Falcons would play which was then the Springfield Civic Center for their first season back in 1994-1995.
The Springfield Thunderbirds will be affiliated with the Florida Panthers and led by Geordie Kinnear, who is the franchise’s first head coach. Kinnear has been an assistant coach in the AHL off and on since 2001 and will bring plenty of experience to the bench this season. Joining Kinnear on the bench this season will be assistant coaches Doug Janik and Mike Ryan. Janik is from Agawam, MA a town that is part of the Springfield area. Janik played in the play in the NHL and AHL after being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 1999. He also won a national championship that year with the University of Maine Blackbears. Mike Ryan played in the NHL for the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes after being drafted by the Dallas Stars. This is his first professional coaching job.
The Thunderbirds will play two pre-season games at the Massmutual Center on Friday and Saturday night October 7th and 8th. The Providence Bruins will come to town on Friday and their I-91 rival, the Hartford Wolf Pack, will play on Saturday night. Both games will begin at 7:05 pm.
The Thunderbirds will play their first inaugural game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday, October 15th and play their inaugural home opener Saturday, October 22nd against the St. John’s Ice Caps at the MassMutual Center at 7:05 pm.