springfield a second home to nhl hopefuls

The Springfield Falcons' Nick Holden | Speaking of Springfield | Springfield, MA

springfield a second home to nhl hopefuls

As an up and coming professional hockey player, Nick Holden probably won’t be gliding through the rink at the MassMutual Center for too long. But wherever life takes the Springfield Falcons defenseman, he will always hold a fond place for the city.

For one, his “little guy” Parker Berg Holden was born in Springfield last Nov. 6. The birth of his baby boy here is just one more reason for Holden to love a city that has become a second home.

“I really like it here,” says the 25-year-old native of Alberta, Canada. “Ever since we’ve been here, the fans have been great.”

Springfield is among just two dozen cities nationwide with an American Hockey League team. It is also home to the headquarters of the greater American Hockey League, which feeds future stars to the National Hockey League.

The Falcons are affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets, some of whose regular players will be on the ice in Springfield this season thanks to an NHL labor lockout. The NHL talent is expected to be another draw for fans in a city with a rich hockey history.

For about the price of a movie ticket, fans can see a dazzling display of athleticism on the ice, not to mention the occasional good, clean fight among players.

With a grueling 80-game schedule, players’ families often move to the Greater Springfield area with them for the season, which opens here Oct. 13. Holden and his wife Angela frequently get together with others, rubbing elbows with fans at favorite restaurants across the city.

I really like it here. Ever since we’ve been here, the fans have been great.

Holden grew up in a hockey family and even met his wife through the sport when her family hosted him as a junior hockey player in Canada. A person of deep faith, Holden says he is fortunate despite injuries which sidelined him for the season last year.

“God blesses you with many gifts. Luckily, my gift is to play hockey. It led me to my wife. It led me to my career.”

Bruce Landon, president and general manager of the Falcons, can relate. A former professional player, he met his wife while playing in Springfield in 1970 and raised two children here. Despite financial challenges, he’s determined to keep Springfield a hockey hometown.

“You have to give back to the community,” said Landon, whose team has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for the local economy and charitable efforts.

For seven decades professional hockey players have thrilled fans young and old in the city, but attendance has ebbed and flowed amid a recession that has strained family budgets. Booster Club President Pat Lucey says she’s hoping this year fans will flock back.

“When these players come on the ice and they see the stands full of screaming people, it pumps them up. Bruce and the staff have been killing themselves keeping hockey here; I think it’s time we step up and support them.”

To view the full 2012-2013 season game schedule for the Springfield Falcons, visit falconsahl.com.

Chris Marion | chrismarion.com

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