Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Springfield Indians: Shake, Rattle . . . and a Roll! Part 3

It’s been an interesting spring for AHL hockey fans in Springfield. When it was announced in mid-April that the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, the Springfield Falcons’ parent team, were buying the Falcons and moving them to Tucson, it looked like it was curtains for AHL hockey in our city. After all, Springfield was last in attendance. With no new NHL teams for the 2016-17 season, it appeared as if Springfield would eventually have to settle for an ECHL team—a step below the AHL—like former AHL cities Manchester, NH, Glens Falls, NY, and Worcester. Even that wouldn’t have been a guarantee, because the Falcons’ average attendance at 3,108 would have placed it 24th of 29 ECHL teams, had it been in the latter league last year—and assuming that the fans would have continued to support hockey at the ECHL level.

In other words, it didn’t look good. And then a funny thing happened. 

The Portland (Maine) Pirates’ owner sold its team to a group of Springfield investors, so there will be AHL hockey in the MassMutual Center this fall. The Pirates finished next-to-last in attendance last winter, drawing 255 more fans more per game than Springfield, but after protracted lease battles with the Cross Insurance Arena, the owner jumped at the chance to sell to a group that was dying to bring hockey back to Springfield.

Well, fans, how do we make hockey work in Springfield this time? Even the storied Springfield Indians, which formed in 1926 in the Canadian-American Hockey League (the AHL’s precursor), folded in 1932…

…only to come back in 1935 when the Quebec Beavers moved to (West) Springfield and resurrected the Indians name. They played in the AHL until 1951, when Eddie Shore relocated the franchise to Syracuse and fielded Indians teams in lower-level leagues until 1954, when he moved the Syracuse franchise back to Springfield. The Indians stayed in Springfield/West Springfield (as the Kings from 1967 to 1974) until 1994, when they moved to Worcester. The Falcons, which came on the scene the following year, averaged more than 5,000 in attendance three years in a row, from 1997 to 2000, before dipping below 4,000 in their final 13 years.

How do we put fannies back in the seats? Well, how about naming the new team the Springfield Indians? 

The old Indians name was abandoned by the Worcester ownership when it bought the team in 1994 and it was never picked up when the franchise eventually moved to Peoria, IL. The trademark has to be expired, right?

I know. It would be a tough sell to adopt a “racist” moniker these days, especially with the ongoing Washington Redskins brouhaha. NOBODY is naming teams after Native American nicknames right now, right? However, ownership could argue that it is trying to reestablish a brand that is near and dear to Springfield Hockey fans’ hearts—and that the team was originally named after the city’s motorcycle company, not its indigenous people.

Here’s a compromise. Use the Indians name, but feature an Indian Motorcycle on the jersey—no “offensive” logo:

Okay, excuse my shitty Photoshop work. You know what I mean.

True, the motorcycle company was named after Native Americans and it had used stereotypical images of them. But we can all be adults about this. Or maybe, in these politically correct times, not. I still say ownership should float the idea to gauge the outrage (Hey, that rhymes!) and even use the controversy to garner publicity for its team. The public debate would let everyone know the Indians (or at least AHL hockey in general) is back in town.

A member of the Springfield Hockey Heritage Society’s Facebook group suggested using the Springfield Indians’ old nickname “The Tribe” as an official name—sans racist imagery—but I don’t think this watered-down solution would fly in this victim society we live in. So they might as well go all out for the Springfield Indians name, let everyone chew on it for a while, and if it doesn’t happen, at least this will have generated some buzz, and the owners would be perceived as stand-up guys on the “Indians side” for at least trying, and they wouldn’t be crucified by those on the “P.C. side” because they finally yielded to the whiners' demands.

There is another good alternative using a potentially slanderous name. How about the Springfield Chiefs, using the exact same uniforms as the fictional Charlestown Chiefs?

I mean, has there ever been a city that exemplifies old-time minor league hockey more than Springfield? Even though the Chiefs were based on the Johnstown (PA) Jets, the Slap Shot movie parallels with Springfield are endless—the factory closing in Charlestown seems to be written right out of Springfield’s history of losing its manufacturing base over the decades, and Peter Cooney was always threatening to sell or relocate the Indians, until he finally made good on his threat.

Hell, on occasion, the players and fans sometimes mixed it up, just like in the movie!

Springfield Indians fans vs. Hershey Bears, year unknown.

“The fans are standing up to them. The security guards are standing up to them. The peanut vendors are standing up to them. And by God, if I could get down there, I'd be standing up to them!”

The problem is, the Hanson brothers still use the Chiefs’ uniforms in their ongoing road show. Yes, nearly 40 years later, they’re still at it:

I guess they must have trademarked the jerseys. But surely they would allow a Springfield AHL team to use the colors and design on its uniforms. After all, Steve and Jeff Carlson and (middle and right below) must have a soft spot for our city: they played for the Indians in 1977-78. 

Then again, anyone who would put on the foil and punch Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe might just fight to the death for exclusive use of the Chiefs uniforms.

OR, they could be called the Springfield Kings. There is some good history here with this name, with one Calder Cup in 1971. (There could have been another Calder Cup with this name, but Eddie Shore switched their name back to the Indians halfway through their 1974-75 championship season.) There are no other Kings in the AHL right now: the former Los Angeles Kings' AHL farm team, the Manchester Monarchs, are in the ECHL, and their current AHL farm team is known as the Ontario Reign.

We’ll soon know the names of the owners and the name of the new team, according to their lawyer. If the MGM casino people are part of the investment group, how much you want to bet that their name will be the lions?

Come on, name them the Springfield Indians! And for anyone who has a problem with that, a famous Springfield resident has THIS to say!