Three years after Springfield, Massachusetts nearly lost professional hockey, the city is hosting American Hockey League all-stars.
Springfield last hosted an AHL all-star game six decades ago.
After the Springfield Indians defeated a team of players from other AHL cities 8-3 in a game played at the Eastern States Coliseum in 1959, the all-star game went on ice. It was revived 25 years ago as the AHL All-Star Classic.
This year’s two-day event at the MassMutual Center on Sunday and Monday will have a skills competition, a Hall of Fame induction, and a round-robin tournament.
" Its going to be terrific," declared AHL President David Andrews ,who said Springfield has done a great job preparing to host the event.
" This is a celebration of our league, a celebration of our game and a celebration of Springfield," said Andrews at a press conference promoting the event.
The hockey hoopla is in sharp contrast to April 2016 when it appeared, that after 80 years, professional hockey was dead in western Massachusetts. The Springfield Falcons packed up and moved to Tucson at the close of a season that saw the team draw the fewest fans in the league.
A few weeks later, hockey fans’ spirits were lifted when news came that a group of local investors had struck a deal to purchase a franchise in Portland, Maine and move the team to Springfield.
Now, just halfway through their third season in the league, the Springfield Thunderbirds are chasing a playoff spot, playing to good crowds at home games, and now hosting top players and fans from 31 AHL cities.
"This is a culimination of all the hard work our entire staff has put in to rebuild this franchise in the city of Springfield," said Thunderbirds’ President Nathan Costa.
He said the all-star event will show off the progress the young franchise has made.
About 800 hotel rooms have been booked for the weekend and the total economic impact is calculated to be $2.8 million, according to Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"It is a piece of business that comes at an ideal time because January is relatively slow for hotel room nights and our attractions," said Wydra.
Not only will the AHL all-star game bring people to Springfield, it will also bring exposure for the region.
The competition is being shown live on cable in the United States, Canada, and in parts of Europe with a potential audience of 60 million. Wydra said the visitors bureau has bought an ad on the broadcast.
"We did TV last June in preparation for MGM's opening. We have taken that an altered it to show more winter activities so there is sking and skating, but also indoor attractions people can take advantage of," said Wydra.
Other events with the all-star weekend in downtown Springfield include ice sculpture demonstrations and public skating with AHL team mascots.
The Thunderbirds lighting display, which made its debut at the 2018 season of Bright Nights at Forest Park, has been set up in Court Square across the street from the MassMutual Center.
The display with 3,700 LED bulbs depicts two hockey players passing a puck in front of the Thunderbird’s logo.