SPRINGFIELD, MA- Hockey has always been a part of Eddie Shore, Jr’s life. His father Eddie Shore, Sr logged in 550 games in the National Hockey League between the Boston Bruins and the New York Americans over the span of 14 years then he finished out his career in the American Hockey League with the Springfield Indians and the Buffalo Bison from 1940 until 1944. Hockey in the Northeast is in blood.
When the Springfield Falcons packed up shop and moved to Tuscon. Shore, Jr lamented the idea of hockeyless in Springfield. Much to his elation, news of the Springfield Thunderbirds calling the MassMutual Center their home for the foreseeable future brought great relief to Shore, Jr as it did for the hockey die-hards in Springfield.
“I was concerned there wasn’t going to be a team. When I heard there was. I was thrilled,” Shore, Jr. said.
Overall, Shore is pleased with the product on the ice but also the fan experience that the Thunderbirds provide on a nightly basis specifically the promotions the team has put together. He believes the hard work on the ice and the team staff works just as hard off the ice which has resulted in encouraging attendance numbers.
During a time, Springfield would play their games at The Coliseum at the Eastern Exposition in West Springfield. Shore remembers a time before the zamboni came out. He would scrape the ice between periods and put the water down with two 55 gallon drum barrels and then they got the zamboni. The problem was when the zamboni came arrived. It came off the truck and it was in multiple, disassembled parts. Shore asked the delivery driver if there were any instructions and the driver said no. Shore and the crew pieced the zamboni together freehand, yet it worked well for everybody.
The teams had success both at The Coliseum and at the MassMutual Center. The AHL Calder Cup was won at The Coliseum three consecutive.
Shore remembers back in 1967 the NHL doubled in size from six to 12 teams. One of the teams was the Los Angeles Kings. Back in the day, Eddie Shore, Sr. owned the players and not by their NHL team. Shore, Sr. sold the players to Los Angeles and made a deal as Eddie Shore, Jr. was a part of the team. The Springfield Kings in the AHL played at The Coliseum. Eddie Shore, Sr. did not have anything to do with the team but had to provide the building. In 1972, the lease expired at The Coliseum and would not be renewed. The Springfield Civic Center (which is now the MassMutual Center) opened in 1972 and the team was moved there. The Springfield Kings would be the first tenant as the Shores had to provide a place for them to play somewhere in the area.
In 1974, the Kings were a disaster both on the ice and off. Attendance was poor at best, and the product on the ice wasn’t much better. The team’s owner at the time, Jack Cooke, notified Eddie Shore, Sr. that he had intentions of folding the team. Shore, Sr. reminded Cooke that an agreement was in place for the Kings to occupy the Civic Center, and a potential legal staring match was likely to ensue.
George McGuire, the General Manager of the Kings (and also close friend of Shore, Sr.) informed Cooke that even if he sent the players and staff home, he was still obligated to pay them. This friendly reminder bought McGuire and his staff some time, and they would make the most of it. McGuire pulled the strings on a few player moves, and Shore, Jr. worked tirelessly to build attendance. The team started to turn things around, and it looked like McGuire and Shore had saved the organization. The team would eventually change their name to the Indians. Their success continued, surmounting in a Calder Cup championship in the 1974-75 season.
Shore, Jr. reflects fondly on that title run, and also when Springfield won their last Calder Cup back in 1991. The atmosphere inside the Civic Center was incredible, fans were going nuts, and the Indians defended their Calder Cup that they had also won the previous season. Former NHL players, Yvon Corriveau, John Stevens, Scott Daniels, Terry Yake, and goaltender Kay Whitmore were all part of the team that year.
The City Of Springfield has seen many generations of hockey fans flock to the Civic Center or MassMutual Center or The Coliseum to watch the Indians, then Kings, back to the Indians, then the Falcons, and now the Thunderbirds. Regardless of the team name, fans love their hockey in Springfield.
Hockey is now being played in some of the cities that we would have never imagined, especially the growth of the game on the West Coast. The NHL teams wanted their AHL affiliates closer as logistics and travel became tricky (and costly) with affiliates on the other side of the continent. The AHL expanded into the West Coast for the 2015-16 campaign with multiple franchises in California, and the expansion continued this season into Arizona with the addition of the Tuscon Roadrunners.
“It’s absolutely amazing to me the cities that have NHL and AHL and ECHL franchises. These cities never would have been considered back in the old days. Now as I understand it, they are drawing pretty well and that’s a good thing. Hockey is getting to be widespread instead of just a Northeast sport. It’s all over the country and I think that’s good,” said Shore.
As far as Shore is concerned, there are three people that saved hockey in the city of Springfield. It began with his father who first purchased the Springfield franchise in the 1939-40 season, after it was owned by the league. Then, after Peter Cooney sold the franchise in 1994, the team was moved to Worcester, leaving many fans to worry that hockey in Springfield was dust in the wind. However, former Indians player (and now Springfield hockey legend) Bruce Landon would organize the establishment of the Springfield Falcons to keep hockey alive in the area. Fans got to see the likes of Daniel Briere, Sami Kapanen, and fan favorite Rob Murray don the Falcons sweater over the years, that is until the franchise was moved once again.
Fans were once again heartbroken and left out in the cold. Hockey would once again be saved for the fine people of Springfield, as local businessman Paul Picknelly, along with a group of local investors, purchased the Portland Pirates, and relocated the team to Springfield.
Now the Springfield hockey faithful can continue to see the game that they love in the city that they love for the foreseeable future. Then again, hockey wouldn’t be in Springfield at all if not for the Shore family who continue to support Springfield hockey to this day.