By Zachary Baru
There is no way to sugarcoat it, this past month has been devastating for sports in Western Massachusetts. Period.
Many will offer fond memories of the past, many will suggest that we were lucky enough to enjoy the ride while we could, and some will be optimistic for what lies ahead. But there is one thing for sure, this region just suffered a major loss. A loss for sport, a loss for the economy, and a loss for the history that we as a region have been so proud to witness and be a part of.
Lost, but not forgotten. And please, by no means, should this region's fans believe that this is the end for Springfield hockey. The Western Massachusetts media market is prime location for a hockey team in terms of fans, youth participation and logistics.
The number one thing Springfield fans should understand is that they should not blame themselves. Springfield has dedicated, intelligent hockey fans. People must remember that the American Hockey League of today is far different than the AHL of when the Falcons began in 1994. The league has experienced tremendous growth, and with major media markets now receiving high attendances, the numbers Springfield has drawn in recent years simply are not enough.
If it was not for one man, the Falcons, without question, would have left many seasons ago. That man is Bruce Landon, and the city of Springfield will always be in debt to him. Truthfully, there is not enough that can be said for his efforts in keeping hockey in Springfield. Western Massachusetts will always be grateful for his work, and will always remember what he has done for the region. It is amazing how much one man has single-handedly helped not just hockey in Springfield, but our economy as well.
While the attendances of the last few seasons have not been at AHL levels, there still is a passionate fan base and following for hockey right here in Springfield. There is no doubt that an ECHL franchise could succeed in Western Massachusetts, and very well may in the near future.
In terms of youth participation, the Greater Springfield area has no shortage of youth involved with hockey from all levels. Youth involvement is key to success in professional sports, and allows Springfield the opportunity to stay in the running for a future franchise, whichever league that may be.
Logistically speaking, Springfield is still a prime market for the AHL. Springfield is central to many franchises, including Albany, Portland, Providence, Hartford and Bridgeport. Even for games outside the division, Springfield's location makes travel easier. Unlike many current AHL markets, especially Western franchises, a team playing in Springfield could save time and money on travel.
There is still one more factor about Springfield that should be discussed. And that is passion. No, not history, because as important and powerful as history is, good franchises do not depend and rely solely on history. But passion on the other hand is special. Passion is what separates good markets from bad, and will always be unmeasurable. This is why Springfield should never, ever be counted out as a potential sports market. This region loves sports, and this region loves hockey. Never forget that, and never forget the potential that still remains, and will always be present right here in Springfield.
Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also writes for Sports Business Boston.