Ahhh, March in the Northeast…always a fickle time. This trip started by waiting for traffic enhanced by snow to ease up before making the drive to Springfield, MA. My plan was to spend most of the day at the Springfield Museums, but the delay meant it wasn’t worth spending the $25 for the 5 museums when I would only have time for one. So I went to the Armory, a former facility nationally run and historic in longevity. It’s interesting if you’re into that stuff, which I am not as I can’t find appeal in guns and weaponry given their purpose. From there, I walked to the MassMutual Center for outdoor pictures. I found the city to be quite grumpy as many were not all that welcoming (outside of anyone attracting customers). After a frustrating encounter with team staff, I walked around nearby Court Square, which features some pretty cool architecture. There was a bit of time to kill and the very recent opening of the MGM Casino a few blocks down was perfect for that. They actually fulfilled my historical needs as an interactive display gave a great overview of the city.
Puck drop was 7:05 PM and Hartford took on fellow cellar-dwellers Springfield. It may be a historic AHL city, but looking past their 7 Calder Cups, you see just three playoff appearances in the last 18 years. However, the impact the Thunderbirds have had is big as their replacing of the Falcons a few years back led to a complete overall of how hockey would be done and fans responded. On this night, the building was 60-65% full and the home side thrilled with a 5-1 thrashing. Renovations have done this 1970s-arena well as side rooms for a bar and a grill helped to add space to an otherwise crowded concourse. Inside, is an oval seating bowl that is subtly great for hockey. Excellent sightlines from seats that are angled very nicely throughout the building.
The next morning featured a steady light snow as I stayed in to catch up on work remotely. Roads were fine as I made the 20-minute drive back to Springfield. Those looking to spend time in the city, there are the aforementioned attractions, while the biggest one is the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is close to downtown. It is pretty awesome and I’ve been there a few times. The reason I went back this afternoon was for some college hockey as American International College (AIC) started playing here recently instead of the municipal rink in West Springfield (the Olympia Ice Center). That one may have been dinky, this one is much too large. AIC is second-lowest in NCAA attendance and around 500 people came out for the last home game of the year. The folks on hand did a respectable job cheering their boys on and there was a little pep in the building, which I did not expect. The Yellow Jackets responded with a 4-1 win that clinched the Atlantic Hockey Regular-Season crown for the first time in their long-suffering history. While being off-campus is a disadvantage, the MassMutual Center has way better amenities, hence the move and why their opponent Sacred Heart did the same thing a few years ago by taking up shop in Bridgeport’s arena.
Immediately after the final whistle, I got on I-91, an Interstate that I became quite familiar with the last few days. It’s only 30 minutes to Hartford and the suburbs is where the University is located. The Hawks play out of Chase Family Arena, a disjointed gym with lots of exposed interior material. Seating is not comfortable either as the shallow-rising side sections feature poorly-constructed chairs. They are loosely connected, so whenever someone leans back, you feel it and after awhile, it’s like you are on a ride. Thankfully, the game more than made up for the arena and so did the fans. It was Senior Day and the Hawks found themselves behind, down 16 at the half. They came out firing in the 2nd, starting on a 10-0 run. It was a fascinating contest as Hartford couldn’t quite over the hump, yet they managed to tie the game in the final two minutes. They had a chance to win and a desperation tap out led to a long heave at the buzzer that agonizingly hit the back rim, bounced high up and hit the rim again before falling out. The crowd did a double gasp in case it dropped (as did I, apologies for the orgasmic noises). Despite poor local support, the fans that were there, were great through the game. I really was impressed by their enthusiasm and volume. Did not expect that from a team averaging a crowd less than 1,000 and it was a pleasant surprise. In OT, Hartford took control and they got the big win 82-80. I thought the players were so well-poised and controlled during their comeback, especially senior leaders J.R. Lynch and George Blagojevic. I also liked their 9-year coach: John Gallagher. He got on the mic after the game imploring fans for their support on Tuesday as they have a chance at the 2 seed in the conference tournament. He also was genuine and embraced each graduating player and their families during Senior Day festivities with true care. The Hawks have never been to the NCAA Tournament and after this game, I think I found the team I want to win the America East Playoffs.