December 30, 2012 - Springfield, Massachusetts
Springfield has been home of minor league hockey since the 1920's, with the famous Springfield Indians name being incarnated on a couple occasions (and made famous to the non-hockey crowd via a Snoop Dog video). Despite being home to hockey for almost a century Springfield is known as a basketball town, with the Basketball Hall of Fame located within the city as well. Nonetheless, Springfield still houses an AHL team known as the Falcons, and their home is the type of building you think of when East Coast AHL teams come to mind. The MassMutual Center opened in 1972, and was originally known as the Springfield Civic Center. The arena is located downtown, across from the county courthouse, with many of the nearby buildings featuring classic colonial styling. The building takes up an entire city block, and includes the arena and attached convention center, which was added to the arena itself during a 2005 renovation. The exterior of the building is impressive, with tan and gray concrete and lots of glass along the walls. The arena side of the building features large exterior stairways, with patios which rise to the concourse level entrance to the arena. The styling of the exterior is more modern than its 1970's heritage would indicate. The box office lobby is at street level, and there are a pair of staircases which lead up to the arena concourse. A ticket for this Sunday evening Falcons matchup versus Norfolk cost $20. There are a few parking lots and garages nearby, and parking in the adjacent lot cost $5. Classy raised letter signs bearing the venue name are present on multiple sides of the facility. Red brick sidewalks surround the building. From the outside the MassMutual Center has the appearance which is clearly identifiable as an arena. Inside the layout and feel of the building is that of a classic mid-sized hockey barn.
Once inside the arena and up to the concourse level there is a reasonably wide concourse, complete with the usual concessions, a restaurant and bar, and also some cool features for hockey fans. There is a tastefully done Springfield Sports Hall of Fame area which features plaques of its inductees. Of note for hockey fans is the Eddie Shore plaque. As would be expected in this town there is quite a bit of basketball memorabilia on display on the concourse. A reminder that this building was in fact built in the 1970's is that there is quite a bit of brick on the walls on the concourse. There is a small, yet well stocked, team merchandise booth, and some banners featuring stars of past Falcons teams. Once inside the arena itself you find a basic seating bowl, with seating circiling the ice. The ends are squared off giving this more of a 4 corner design. The seating bowl is entered from the concourse, with an aisle running behind the first 7 rows of seats. All of the seats are dark blue, and there are another 12-15 rows of seats above the aisle. Everything is not symmetrical though, as there is a large opening in one corner where you can see out onto the main concourse. It is as if they left out an entire section of the upper seats in this area. Unlike many AHL arenas there are not many luxury suites. A small number of suites flank the pressbox on one side of the arena, and that is it. Sight lines are very good, and the large center ice scoreclock is likely the first thing you notice once you sit in your seat. The scoreboard is huge, and is equipped with a video screen, although despite the mammoth size of the scoreboard the video screen seems rather small, and only takes up a portion of the face of the scoreboard. There is actually room for 5 penalties on the scoreboard as well, something you don't see every day. The inside of the arena is basic, yet has a vibe that says "classic hockey" that we can't quite put our finger on, but could certainly feel.
AHL arenas generally have a big-time feel and a polished game presentation. Springfield is no different, although they do have some unique and notable quirks. Before the game a video is shown on the big screen giving an overview of the building, including a listing of exits, restrooms and the general lay of the land. The presentation and intermission activity is typical of the AHL, although without some of the high tech gadgets that are present in some of the newer buildings in the league. As in most buildings fans go crazy over the t-shirt toss and various giveaways, but most folks are here for the hockey itself. It is that old school feel which makes the MassMutual Center a fun place to take in a game. The Falcons have been playing very well this year, although attendance the last few years has not been that great. Despite a seating capacity of 6,789 the arena was less than half full with an announced attendance of 2,763 for this Sunday matchup against Norfolk. The fans that were in attendance were certainly knowledgeable and vocal and certainly seemed to support their Falcons. The game itself was very entertaining with the Falcons taking a 4-1 win in a rough and tumble game which featured a couple of decent fights. The PA system is good, and the crowd seems to get a kick out of chanting along to the Ric Flair "Woo" that is played after each Falcons goal. The fans are also treated to a post game on-ice interview with the first star of the game, and those on hand for this game really seemed to enjoy themselves. The ability to still watch and enjoy great hockey in a 40 year old arena like this is certainly a treat. Being able to do it with the history of banners of the Springfield Indians hanging from the rafters dating back to the 1960's makes for a fun day at the arena. In our opinion Springfield is a hockey town after all.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Springfield Falcons can be found at: Falcons Home
Other information about the MassMutual Center can be found at: Arena Home
More photos of the MassMutual Center can be found Here