Falcons Home Ice: The MassMutual Center

Getting to know the Springfield Falcons starts with something very basic.

Their home ice.

The Falcons have made their home at "The Nest", the Falcons inspired nickname for the MassMutual Center in Springfield since their inception in the fall of 1994.

While near and dear to many (and remains so to this day), the Eastern States Coliseum in West Springfield, the home to pro hockey in Springfield dating back to 1926, was starting to show signs of its age by the late 1960s. A revitalization project for downtown Springfield was capped with the construction of a brand new multi purpose arena, originally known as the Springfield Civic Center.

The Civic Center opened its doors for the first time on September 22, 1972. Bob Hope was the headliner on that memorable night. Less than one month later, the Springfield Kings played their first game in the new building.

Early on, many longtime fans didn't care for the antiseptic, concrete and steel feel of the new facility. They were used to years of free parking at the fairgrounds as well as the earthy feel of the wooden floored grandstands of the Coliseum.

With fans staying away in droves, the Kings franchise became imperiled to the point in early 1975 when Los Angeles Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke was intent on shutting down the club altogether midway through the 1974-75 season. Legendary Hall of Famer Eddie Shore once again stepped up, keeping the team on ice at the Civic Center and completed a rags to riches transformation as the Kings name and uniforms were replaced by the long heralded "Indians" nickname and with the white, blue and red colors. The transformation was completed that spring when the club that almost folded ended up defeating the New Haven Nighthawks for the fifth Calder Cup championship in franchise history.

Prior to the construction of new arenas in Hartford, CT and Worcester, MA, the Civic Center was the showplace of the northeast.

By the start of the new millenium, like its counterpart across the river, the building was starting to show some signs of wear and tear. The MA convention authority set things in motion and budgeted $60M in renovations for the facility. The renovation started in the fall of 2003 and was completed in time for Falcons Opening Night of 2005. (The final cost for the renovation may have been as high as $71 million.)

Along with the extensive, top to bottom renovation the building had a new corporate name sponsor, MassMutual financial and insurance.

Now, one of the smaller arenas in the northeast, the renovated facility sought to find its niche as more of a convention center than a multipurpose arena.

Since 1994, the Springfield Falcons have been the prime tenant of the building. Through management changes and the pricy renovation, the Falcons primarily through the continued efforts of Bruce Landon, remain the ongoing attraction in the building. For the past two seasons, the building has also hosted an NBA D-league team, the Springfield Armor. Like many expansion teams, they have struggled on the court. Like many minor league teams, they struggle to fill the seats.

Perhaps of interest to Blue Jackets fans is something that Bruce Landon has commented on in many interviews over the past year or so. He has been steadfast in how much Blue Jackets management likes the facility. Included in that is the players area.

No longer termed solely "dressing room", the players area is massive. I was able to tour the area last month. Many years ago, I had become familiar with the building's many nooks, crannies and corridors. In no way was I prepared for the completely renovated players area. If you drew a mental line from the center ice line in the arena, then went all the way back to the far corner, the players area takes up nearly a full 25% of the underside of the building.

Players lounge, coaches offices, medical room, gym, dressing area and another locker room area, this is absolutely a major league perk for a minor league team.

The MassMutual Center, 39 years old and as good as new, despite its lack of seating capacity (6,789 for hockey), has reinvented itself as one of the best facilities in all of minor league sports.

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