by Damon Markiewicz || AHL On The Beat Archive
When Springfield Falcons left wing Eric Healey walked into the MassMutual Center this past September for the start of training camp, the nine-year veteran looked around and couldn’t believe the changes to the newly renovated arena.
“I didn’t even recognize the place,” said Healey, who is in his second tour of duty with the Falcons. “They did a great job. So much has changed with the arena; I am thrilled to be back.”
Something that hasn’t changed is Healey’s ability to produce offensively and give opposing teams headaches when trying to limit his production. In fact, during the 2005-06 campaign, Healey left Falcons fans scratching their heads in how to stop the Hull, Mass., native from scoring on the hometown team.
Healey led the Providence Bruins in scoring last year, and also led the Baby B’s with 11 goals in 10 games against the Falcons during the 2005-06 campaign. “I always enjoyed playing in Springfield, both with the Falcons and as an opponent,” said Healey. “The fans have always been good to me in Springfield and I am happy to be back in trying to lead the team to success.”
Healey’s leadership qualities were intangibles that both Falcons president and general manager Bruce Landon and the Tampa Bay Lightning evaluated this past summer before signing Healey to a contract. Both the Falcons and Lightning brass knew Healey could score, but his ability to lead by example also was an ingredient that was extremely important when bringing Healey into the organization.
“Eric is a professional and we knew that,” said Landon, who announced the signing of Healey on July 14. “We obviously knew a lot about Eric with him having played in Springfield and we knew the qualities he possessed. We knew he would be very helpful with the young players in the locker room and display qualities that you need veteran players to possess.”
It hasn’t taken Healey long to already serve as a mentor for one of Springfield’s rookie players. First-year pro and Healey linemate Blair Jones has quickly developed a chemistry with Healey that helps the youngster both on and off the ice. Along with captain Norm Milley, both Healey and Jones have carried Springfield’s offense at times during the early portion of the 2006-07 season and it’s the communication between Healey and Jones that really pays dividends when coming together as teammates.
“Eric has been great to me and all of the young players,” said Jones, who had Healey assist on his first professional goal on Oct. 27. “On the ice he has been very helpful explaining plays and showing me some positioning in certain areas on the ice. Off the ice, he has been just as helpful, he has had me over for dinner and because he was familiar with Springfield, showed me around town. He has been great for the team.”
Healey’s ability to lead is something he learned during the early portion of his career.
“It seems like I always had some quality veteran players around me during my career,” said Healey, who is a veteran of more than 520 career pro games. “All I try to do is go out and work hard and lead by example, nothing too fancy. As players, we all have goals and anything I can do to try and help a teammate, I will do so.”
Growing up just south of Boston, Healey grew up a Boston sports fan and followed the Bruins extensively in the days of Ray Bourque and Cam Neely. It’s safe to say Healey was just like every other youngster growing up near The Hub, he bled the black and gold growing up. That is why when Healey finally had the chance to make his National Hockey League debut last year, it was fitting it was in Boston in a Bruins uniform.
“It was a special day, my parents had a chance to be at the game… it was a great day,” said Healey, who idolized Neely growing up. “Hopefully I will get the chance once again to play at the NHL level, but right now my focus is on helping the Falcons win hockey games.”
Healey is no stranger to success in a Springfield uniform. He was named an AHL All-Star during the 1999-2000 season after collecting 29 points in 32 games before suffering a season-ending injury. Similar to the Springfield Civic Center evolving into the MassMutual Center, Healey has evolved from an inexperienced sniper to a cagey veteran trying to lead the Falcons to a season of continued success.
“When you enter a season, your goal as a team is making the playoffs and that is what we are trying to do,” said Healey, who was a member of the 1999-2000 Springfield playoff team. “We want to win games and make the post-season, we are going to keep things simple as a team.”