by Andrew Tressler || AHL On The Beat Archive
Professional hockey in Springfield has been a staple in the city since the first pro game played on Dec. 1, 1926, when the Springfield Indians took to the ice. This was the debut of the Canadian American Hockey League, and also the debut of professional hockey in a city that was searching for a team to embrace. The Springfield Indians became that team and hockey was the sport the fans fell in love with.
From the days when the fans went to watch Hockey Hall of Famer and Mr. Springfield Hockey, Eddie Shore, and his Indians play at the old Coliseum in West Springfield to now the MassMutual Center where the Falcons play, the love for hockey in this city has proven to be passionate and true. Although the Falcons and Indians are considered unique and separate franchises, the city has continued to support their hockey team throughout, including the tough 1994 transition.
In 1994, the Springfield Indians were sold and moved to Worcester, Mass., where they became the Worcester IceCats. This is when Indians general manager and former Indians goaltender Bruce Landon joined another former Indians player, Wayne LaChance, to secure a Springfield hockey franchise and remain in the city starting in 1994-95. The Springfield Falcons were born and a professional hockey team remained in western Massachusetts.
“Somebody was willing and still is to put a lot of effort and time to keep something in this area,” said longtime fan Les Kimball on Landon’s effort in 1994 to keep a team in Springfield. “The demographics have changed and there’s a lot of change, but when he stepped up, it was the greatest thing to see someone take action, great feeling.”
And through it all, from the great years when Springfield Indians won seven Calder Cups to the trying times where the Falcons struggled to find wins, the fans continued to come and support their hometown team.
“Without a loyal support of crowd of the fans,” said Landon, now the Falcons’ GM and president, “it’s like any business: it can’t sustain itself. You can only take losses for so long and the fans are important to this franchise. Ultimately, I’ve said all along win or lose it’s going to be the fans and the community will decide on whether or not Springfield will continue to support professional hockey for the long term.”
In business, the most important factor for success is how many customers you are able to attract and sell your product to. For the Falcons and Springfield hockey, the customers are the fans. The hockey fans in Springfield are the ones who keep the organization afloat and their loyalty is what makes a franchise a success or failure.
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Despite being in business for more than 80 years now, the Springfield Indians and Falcons have never taken for granted the amount of fans that come out. The teams were and still are known as a community team that gives back to the city, especially through youth hockey programs.
This kind of community outreach to the city and fans allow the Falcons players and coaches become part of this city. It brings the fans and the players together offering a chance for the fans to get to know the players on a more personal level off the ice.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said 20-year season-ticket holder Tom Dwyte on meeting the players. “Like at the [Falcons annual] golf outing to see them out of uniform and in a different atmosphere. It’s a lot of fun and, yes, it’s enjoyable.”
The fans of hockey in Springfield have a passion for the Falcons that many outside of the organization do not realize. This has become more than just a fun family outing some night during the week, it has become for some a big part of their lives. Just ask Springfield Falcons Booster Club president Pat Lucey.
“It’s like my heart,” said Lucey, a 40-year season-ticket holder. “I think if it ever ended and I didn’t have it anymore, I’m not quite sure what I would do with myself. It would be very, very sad because it’s just my heart. I love it so much. I would do anything to help them.”
It has a tough past six years for Falcons fans as the team has failed to reach the Calder Cup Playoffs, and the fans still take each loss hard.
“I go home and kind of scream a little and yell,” said Lucey. “[But] I know you can’t win them all.”
During those tough times, fans, including Landon, can reminisce on the happier times in the history of Springfield hockey. Maybe it is the first Springfield hockey game they ever attended, or the back-to-back Calder Cups in 1990 and 1991. Or for Landon, his first time taking the ice as a professional goaltender for the 1969 Springfield Kings.
People like Pat Lucey, Tom Dwyte, Les Kimball and Bruce Landon are just some of the die-hard Springfield Falcons fans that have helped to make professional hockey in Springfield as unforgettable as it can be for the last 83 years. Professional hockey and Springfield go hand-in-hand and hopefully there will be another 83 years to come.