Coming off what was likely the most disappointing season in Springfield hockey history, when the last year of the affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers resulted in a wretched season. Summed up quite accurately by no less than this year's AHL goal scoring champion, Colin McDonald when interviewed last January by Neal Livingston of the Copper and Blue:
"In Springfield we were a pretty young team almost every year, and those of us who played in Springfield and are now here just got sick of losing. And not just losing, but finishing in last place; it's just not fun to play hockey that way. Guys were miserable showing up to the rink every day, and at times we found ourselves just trying to not lose by a lot."
After such a season, the local fans were eagerly looking forward to the new relationship with the Blue Jackets. In all honesty, I'm not sure if any of the locals could name any of the Jackets except possibly for Rick Nash, but of primary concern was getting beyond the Oilers affiliation. The t's could be crossed and the i's dotted later.
The season opened on an exciting note when the AHL was conducting its 75th Anniversary celebration. Among the participating clubs in the celebration were the Falcons who opened the season with a home and home against their archrivals, the Providence Bruins. Both clubs donned throwback style uniforms for the weekend with an air of authenticity to what the Springfield Indians and Providence Reds might have worn some 75 years earlier.
In hindsight, that opening weekend came to reflect the Falcons' season, as they won the opener in Providence then came home to the MassMutual Center. The Falcons fell behind early and mounted a terrific comeback, but in the end fell short in front of a packed house. The variables that would stay with the Falcons for the entire season were: playing well on the road, playing marginally at home, and playing poorly in front of near capacity crowds.
Two significant bright spots in the first half of the season were named Grant Clitsome and Matt Calvert. By mid-November the diminutive Calvert had emerged as the Falcons dominant hustler and was leading the club in scoring. Clitsome in the same time frame had become in my estimation, the Falcons number one blueliner. Consistent in defending his end, and finding his booming shot on the power play, Clitsome was on the cusp of bigger things.
In mid-November, the transaction train started to chug through downtown Springfield.
November 10th: Veteran Nick Tarnasky was signed on a PTO
November 11th: Chad Kolarik traded for Dane Byers
November 18th: Veteran Jay Pandolfo was signed on a PTO
December 10th: Nikita Filatov sent to Springfield; Tom Sestito called up to Columbus
There would be more to come as the calendar changed from 2010 to 2011:
January 6th: Matt Calvert called up
January 9th: Grant Clitsome called up, Mike Commodore sent to Springfield
January 21st: Kyle Wilson sent to Springfield
In any given AHL season, transactions are expected. Not just the quantity of the moves, but the caliber of player involved led to an overhaul of the chemistry of the Falcons. In the midst of these player transactions, the Falcons enjoyed an ownership transaction. On December 21st, the local ownership situation improved when the Falcons announced Charles Pompea as the new majority owner of the team. He is joined by President and General Manager Bruce Landon as a minority partner in the club.
By mid-February, the Falcons were briefly tied for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Then, all hell broke loose. After a nice three game winning streak, the next month looked like this:
Feb 27: Springfield 4 at W-B/Scranton 5
Mar 2: Springfield 2 at Connecticut 3
Mar 5: Connecticut 2 at Springfield 1 OT
Mar 6: Springfield 1 at Portland 6
Mar 11: Portland 5 at Springfield 3
Mar 12: Springfield 1 at Albany 2
Mar 13: Adirondack 3 at Springfield 0
Mar 16: Springfield 2 at Manchester 4
Mar 18: Hershey 5 at Springfield 1
Mar 19: Springfield 0 at Binghamton 2
Mar 20: Springfield 1 at Connecticut 3
Mar 23: Springfield 2 at Connecticut 3
Particularly painful in that stretch was the March 18th game against Hershey. Starting netminder Gustaf Wesslau whiffed at the first two shots on him in 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Rumor has it that he was busy counting the house and observing the crowd "eating sausage and drinking beer".
That losing streak obviously knocked the Falcons completely out of playoff contention. The streak ended on March 26th, with a convincing 7-2 win in Worcester, crippling the Sharks playoff chances.
The victory over the Sharks was the first of the final eight games of the season for the Birds. On a positive note, the end of a non-playoff season (and there have been plenty of those in Springfield) there is an influx of college and junior players whose seasons have concluded.
Some of the players who joined the Falcons for the final few weeks of the season were: Aaron Bogosian, Paul Dainton, Wade MacLeod, Cam Atkinson and Allen York. These guys all played inspired hockey for the Falcons. Personally speaking, the highlight of the bunch was Allen York's confident goalkeeping, highlighted by the only Falcons shutout of the season when he blanked the Albany Devils 6-0 on April 8th.
The season that just two months earlier held so much promise, mercifully came to an end on April 9th in Portland, Maine where the Falcons won the season finale, 2-1 in overtime.
Statistically, the Falcons closed out the 2010-2011 season like this:
In 80 games played the Falcons record was 35-40-2-3 for 75 points. They finished in sixth place in the seven team Atlantic Division, trailed only by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers who finished with 71 points. The Falcons scored 233 goals while giving up 253. The 253 goals against were third worst in the Eastern Conference and sixth worst in the 30 team AHL. As the record shows, surrendering over three goals a game makes it very difficult to qualify for post season play.
The season over, new Falcons owner Charles Pompea issued the following message to fans and sponsors of the Falcons:
As a new owner, I wanted to reach out to as many of our fans and corporate sponsors to express how disappointed we were about our losing streak in March that took us out of the playoff race. Up to that dreadful stretch of losses, our team was beginning to come together with the chemistry that makes a winner.
Unfortunately, we had some injuries and trades that were beyond our control that created a negative impact on our results.
On a positive note, I must comment how hard our players, coaches and staff have worked in the community and on the ice to regroup and provide us with some very exciting hockey. We have had numerous meetings with the management of the Columbus Blue Jackets reviewing our weaknesses that need to be corrected for next year. We ASSURE you these will be addressed.
On behalf of my partner, Bruce Landon, and the entire Falcons staff, I want to thank you for your support and we are working with the Blue Jackets to build a team where EVERY player has the "heart" to be a winner that Springfield so deserves……
Thank you again for your loyal support!
PS…Bird…Bird…Bird…The Bird is the Word!!
And with that, the curtain is officially down on the 2010-2011 Falcons season. Coming soon at The Cannon, I'll be taking a look at the season ahead...one that we are all very excited about!