The more I wrote, the more I realized that this article came back to one person.
In many of my previous posts here at The Cannon, I have referred to "Bruce Landon, President and General Manager" of the Springfield Falcons.
If you're reading this in Columbus or Halifax or some place other than Springfield, your eyes are likely to glaze over at the mention of a minor league team's executive. After all, you're here for Blue Jackets news.
While that may be true, Bruce Landon has been entrusted by the Jackets with their top prospects. And believe me, he is anything but "another minor league executive".
The story starts through the eyes of a 9 year old hockey fan.
Landon's connection with Springfield started in the fall of 1969. Bruce was the fourth round draft choice of the Los Angeles Kings in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft. After celebrating his 20th birthday, he earned the #1 goaltending job on a team that missed the playoffs the previous season.
The result of that rookie season? Only taking the Springfield Kings to the Calder Cup finals where they were swept by a powerful Buffalo Bisons team. The Bisons were in their final season before the Buffalo Sabres took over "The Aud" in Buffalo, NY.
When the curtain raised for the 1970-71 season, the goaltending duo for the Kings was to be Landon and future Hall of Famer, Billy Smith. Bruce suffered through an injury plagued season and was on the sidelines that spring as the Kings emerged as Calder Cup champions.
Whether on the ice or not, it was still a first taste of a professional championship, something that would follow him in the years to come.
Eager to play major league hockey in his adopted home of New England, Landon joined the New England Whalers of the new World Hockey Association for the start of the first WHA season.
The Whalers in that inaugural season, relied on many players who were familiar to hockey fans of the northeast. Bruce teamed with NHL veteran Al Smith to backstop the Whalers to the first Avco World Cup, the WHA's championship.
Although there were no more championships for the Whalers, Landon remained in their goaltending mix for the next four seasons, returning to the playoffs three more times in that span.
Bruce's playing career came to an unexpected finish in the '77-'78 season. After starting the season with the Rhode Island Reds, things had come full circle when he returned to Springfield and joined the Indians. A severe knee injury sustained during a practice brought Landon's on-ice career to a premature close.
George Leary, who owned the Indians franchise at the time, brought Landon into the business side of the game when he appointed Bruce as the Director of Marketing and Sales. It didn't take him long to prove his value as he was recognized in 1979-80 by the AHL when they presented him with the Ken McKenzie Award.
The Ken McKenzie Award is named in honor of the former publisher of The Hockey News and is given to the person who best promotes their club during the season.
Bruce became the General Manager of the Indians in 1982, a position he holds to the present day. His dedication and his business savvy were rewarded with first after the 1988-89 season, the James C. Hendy Award, which is annually presented to the AHL's outstanding executive. Then there were the improbable back to back Calder Cup championships in 1990 and 1991, his first championships as an executive.
After the 1991 championship, things started to change in Springfield. By the time the 1993-94 season rolled around, attendance had once again fallen off and Indians ownership sold the franchise to interests in Worcester, MA who would rename the franchise "IceCats". But what about hockey in Springfield?
If you answered Bruce Landon, you have been paying attention.
Bruce partnered with former Kings teammate Wayne LaChance and they were granted an AHL expansion franchise for the 1994-95 season.
Enter the era of the Springfield Falcons.
While the team hit the ground running in the mid 90's, led by players such as Danny Briere, as the decade drew to a close, ultimate success remained just out of reach for the Falcons. Also, as the game continued to transform itself with NHL clubs employing ever more levels of coaching and management, it became increasingly difficult to find a suitable partner to join the Falcons at the aging Springfield Civic Center.
The new millennium brought struggles for Landon on just about every front. Ownership changes, building renovations and a parade of NHL affiliates would have made a lesser man question his career choice.
After a soured relationship with the Phoenix Coyotes, the Tampa Bay Lightning stepped in as the parent club to the Falcons. Lightning executive Jay Feaster and head coach John Tortorella came to Springfield with the Stanley Cup for the opening of the 2004-05 season. Three years later the Lightning moved on, having never delivered on their plan to bring playoff hockey to Springfield.
Next came the Edmonton Oilers. After a decent first season, the Oilers lack of depth became abundantly clear with two of the most difficult seasons that Springfield hockey fans have ever had to endure.
There is no constant like change and the changes continued for the Falcons. The newly renovated and renamed MassMutual Center became a showplace in the realm of smaller capacity arenas. The Oilers left town and in the spring of 2010, the Columbus Blue Jackets became the new NHL affiliate of the Falcons.
More change came in December of 2010, when the Falcons announced new ownership, with Charlie Pompea as the new principal owner of the Falcons. Once again, Bruce Landon was the go-to guy to find someone who would not just be a "money man" for the team, but someone who would be the right fit for the community.
The difficulties of previous seasons and affiliations were obvious to the fans, but at the press conference where Pompea's ownership was announced, no less than the president of the AHL, Dave Andrews said:
"It's been tough to watch what Bruce has had to endure."
When I was that 9 year old mentioned at the start of this story, it was always exciting to see the legendary Eddie Shore's Cadillac around town.
How could you be sure it was him?
Well, because he was the only person in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to have more than six characters on his license plate. Shore's license plate:
How do Bruce Landon and Eddie Shore compare? Better still, how can an elite term like "Mr. Hockey" apply? These two men came to Springfield under different circumstances, yet this is where their similarity begins. Both, with professional championships under their belts, became interwoven in the fabric of this community. In fact, even in the present, the Shore name remains synonymous with Springfield hockey. It has become much the same for Landon. His commitment to family, hockey and the community are the reasons that AHL hockey remains in Springfield to this day. This comparison begs the question, had it not been for Eddie Shore and his commitment to hockey in Springfield, how long would a franchisee stick it out here? Taking the lumps of losing seasons, which far outnumber the championship campaigns.
Fast forward to today. If not for Bruce's unrelenting commitment to the game and the community, would we have had the past seventeen years of AHL hockey here? When you take the time to look around the country, not just at AHL cities, but minor league sports cities in general, it's not uncommon to see major league clubs move their minor league affiliation around, almost as if they don't want to get too comfortable in any one area. Even AHL stalwarts such as the Hershey Bears and the Rochester Americans have had to deal with affiliate changes in the recent past.
For the first 17 years of the Falcons, Bruce Landon has been the public face of the franchise. He has seen it through good times and bad. His most recent actions, working alongside Chris MacFarland and Scott Howson to make a significant investment in the team for the upcoming season were simply amazing. The Jackets management, sharing Bruce's vision for success are also to be commended for their efforts.
Bruce Landon, Springfield's modern-day "Mr. Hockey".