SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The City of Springfield has had a long history with professional hockey that dates all the way back to the 1920s — starting out with the Indians, then to the Falcons, and now currently with the Thunderbirds. A city that is smack in the middle of NYC and Boston, Springfield residents only have one hockey team they can locally support, and that’s the T-Birds. Since the organization arrived at the MassMutual Center in 2016, they have had multiple sellout weekends, visits from former professional athletes like Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, and most importantly hosted the 2019 AHL All-Star Game.
The Thunderbirds have had a lot of success with sending players up to the NHL as an affiliate of the Florida Panthers. They hope to continue that success with a new affiliate in 2020-21. Just before the AHL announced the suspension and ultimate cancellation of the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization announced that they had signed a five-year affiliation agreement with the St. Louis Blues. The agreement will begin next year through the 2024-25 season. The Blues won the Stanley Cup last season and are currently in first place in the Western Conference.
With the new Blues affiliation, it allows the T-Birds to draw from a new pool of players under contract from St. Louis. There are pros and cons that come from the new affiliation. They will also be an affiliate to a team that has a shot to repeat as Stanley Cup Champion this season. The big issue with a new affiliation is that they will be losing some of the young talent that they have had for the past few years under contract to Florida.
They will be losing captain, Paul Thompson, goalie Sam Montembeault, and young standout Jonathan Ang. Thompson has been with the club on and off since 2014 when they were still the Falcons. He finished this shortened season with 13 goals and 28 assists which is about half of what he would have been on track to get. Ang, on the other hand, finished this season with 21 points and was four shy of his total points from last season. He is a young player that ultimately would have been great to watch develop for T-Birds fans.
St. Louis’ former AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, struggled last season, finishing seventh in the Central Division. Although the Rampage had it rough, the T-Birds will be getting top defensemen, Derrick Pouliot, who finished the season with 39 points and 32 assists, it will give Springfield a strong setup man and a polished defensemen for the 2020-21 season. Pouliot also finished second in power-play points last season, something that last year’s Thunderbirds team struggled with.
Fresh faces from the St. Louis Blues organization may give the T-birds the spark they have needed the past few years. With everything about next season up in the air, only time will tell what will happen with this new Thunderbirds team.
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