By Zachary Baru
The month of June was one of worry, optimism and relief for the sports community in Springfield. Many were devastated to discover the news of the Falcons leaving for Arizona, but the region's sports fans remained hopeful that professional hockey in Springfield could return. On June 15, those wishes were granted, when the Springfield Thunderbirds were announced at a press conference at the MassMutual Center.
The timing of the Thunderbirds just feels right. This may be a new franchise, but the same great tradition of hockey remains in Springfield. October of 2016 could not be a better time for "a new beginning" after years of uncertainty.
With speculation about the future of the Falcons throughout the last few seasons, it is comforting to know that Springfield indeed has professional hockey, and a bright future ahead. The future may not be completely clear, but at least fans throughout the Pioneer Valley have a solid ownership group that shares the same goals as the community.
To be blunt, the investors of the Thunderbirds want hockey in Springfield, plain and simple. They would not be here if they didn't. To know that Springfield has a group of dedicated individuals that have a vested interest in keeping hockey in the city is comforting for the community. Simply put, June was a great month for Springfield sports.
Call it "a new beginning", call it "carrying on the tradition", whatever anyone would like to label it as, the Thunderbirds is a perfect match for Springfield. On one hand, the Thunderbirds feels like a traditional franchise. It feels like one that fans going back to the Indians and Falcons can root for and call their own. Be it the name, the logo, or the way this franchise was introduced, it certainly has a traditional feel to it. But at the same time, the Thunderbirds still feels very new. It feels exciting, and brings a sense of optimism to the city, one this region's sports fans need after years of uncertainty, and a very frightening month of June.
In May and June, there was talk of the ECHL coming to Springfield. There was real fear in the city that AHL hockey was gone, which could have ended a tradition dating back to 1926. But when news of the Thunderbirds came, a second chance for Springfield came with it. Well, a third, fourth, fifth and so on chance many people would probably tell you.
Now is the time for a renewed hope of keeping hockey alive and well in Springfield. The Thunderbirds have all the right ingredients, marketing their mission of continuing the rich hockey tradition of Springfield, but still bringing something fresh to the city. It is a tough task, but this franchise has done an incredible job pulling it off in an extremely short amount of time. The future looks very, very bright for sports in Springfield.
Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also writes for Sports Business Boston.