There were talks four years ago between the Springfield Thunderbirds and the St. Louis Blues about a potential partnership, but nothing came of it.
Four years later, the Las Vegas Golden Knights purchased the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League, leaving the Blues without an AHL affiliate.
That is when talks between the Thunderbirds and the Blues started again. This time, a deal got done.
The Thunderbirds announced in March that it came to a five-year agreement with the Blues to become the organization’s AHL affiliate.
Blues Assistant General Manager Kevin McDonald has done scouting work at the MassMutual Center for the Blues and other organizations in the past. He attended the Thunderbirds game against the Hartford Wolf Pack on February 1 when the organization hosted a Simpsons-themed night and sold merchandise inspired by the show.
He said during a Thunderbirds virtual town hall on Thursday that he thinks Springfield is an exciting market.
“With the casino in town and renovations that have been done in the building, I think it is a great place for our prospects to play,” McDonald said. “Springfield has a lot to offer. I am excited for us to roll up our sleeves, get the hockey going and drop the puck.”
The Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019 and have become one of the NHL’s top teams the last few years. Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa said during Thursday’s livestream that the Thunderbirds and Blues have similar philosophies.
“We have made a real commitment to winning here in Springfield,” Costa said. “That is something we have talked about from the beginning. You don’t get a better pedigree than the Blues with what they have been able to do at the NHL and AHL level in terms of their development of players. The philosophies went hand in hand. … St. Louis understands the importance of winning and developing players in a winning environment. We want to create an environment at the MassMutual Center to hopefully help these guys develop. … The ownership is invested in the long term. We are excited about it.”
The Thunderbirds were formerly affiliated with the Florida Panthers from 2016 to 2019. With the new partnership between the Blues and Thunderbirds, there will be an entirely new roster and coaching staff next season.
McDonald is a Lawrence native that has scouted games in Springfield for over two decades. He expects that the team will relish the opportunity to play in front of a jam-packed crowd once fans are allowed back into venues at close to normal numbers in the future.
“I don’t know how many sell outs Nate and his staff put together last year but I know it was most likely double digits,” McDonald said. “I’m thankful that when I scout I have the press box because I know the building is full. … As coaches, and players especially, you thrive in that atmosphere. You want a noisy building. You want a market that cares about winning. … There is a lot of excitement and everyone is just waiting for the bell to ring and get going.”