by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
In a city with a rich hockey history dating back to Eddie Shore, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault is helping to revive local interest in the sport with his Springfield Falcons squad.
With two games remaining the 2012-13 regular season, the Falcons – primary affiliate for the Columbus Blue Jackets – have clinched a playoff berth for the first time in a decade and are division champions for the first time since Danny Briere and Shane Doan helped the Falcons to a first-place finish in 1998.
“There are a lot of people in the organization who have been there a while, and they were thrilled to win the Northeast Division,” Audy-Marchessault said. “It’s really fun for the city of Springfield too. They’ve been waiting for a good hockey team to get behind.
“We might be the team to go far in the playoffs and we might be the team to win it.”
“It” is the Calder Cup, which has found a home in Springfield seven times during the city’s 70 seasons of play in the AHL but not since 1991, when the Springfield Indians completed their second consecutive championship season.
Audy-Marchessault has only been in the Pioneer Valley for a season, but already feels at home. After playing last year on an AHL contract with the Connecticut Whale – and finishing third among all AHL rookies in scoring – he signed a three-year entry-level contract with Columbus during the off-season.
“It’s been a little bit different,” he said of the adjustment to his new team, “but it was a good choice and I’m happy in the Columbus organization.
“It’s a great place for me and the staff and my teammates have been so nice to me all year.”
And what a year it’s been. The 22-year-old Quebec City native represented the Falcons at this year’s AHL All-Star Classic in Providence, R.I., and last week was named a First Team AHL All-Star.
“I think it’s an honor to be recognized by the league and the people that are voting,” he said of the accolades. “It’s a great honor and I’m really happy about it. It’s something to be proud of.”
Now leading his team in scoring with 20 goals and 44 assists for 64 points in his 72 games, Audy-Marchessault has actually improved on his standout rookie campaign.
“After a good season like I had last year, I think it’s hard to keep up the pace and try to be consistent year after year and be better,” he said. “This year I think I was better.
“I improved my defensive side and my intensity. I think it’s a positive that I was able to produce offensively like last year. It’s been really positive.”
Audy-Marchessault got a taste of life in the NHL earlier this year when he made his debut with Columbus in January. With that experience under his belt, he says his time in the AHL has made all the difference in one particular aspect of his game:
“My confidence,” he said. “When you come to the AHL, you’re so close to the NHL so you work harder and want more.
“You have more opportunities to improve. And the players that have the most opportunities to improve are the ones that make it to the next level. It’s been great to play in the AHL and be able to improve.”
Now as he heads to the playoffs, improvement is his focus.
“When you come to the playoffs, it’s not just a switch that you flip on,” said Audy-Marchessault, who scored four goals in nine postseason games for Connecticut last spring. “It’s being consistent and going in the same direction. We just need to be ready to do the right things and play hard.
“I’m happy about what I’ve done so far, but I’m not satisfied,” he added. “As a hockey player you need to want more. You need to put your expectations higher. You need to try to improve every day.”
And for fans in Springfield, where a decade-long dry spell has finally lifted and playoff hockey is returning, that’s a good sign.