February 8, 2011

AHL Journal: Springfield in tune with Hartford buzz

by Dan Hickling

Springfield Falcons president Bruce Landon is keeping a close eye on what happens in Hartford with the rebranded Connecticut Whale. (photo: Dan Hickling/New England Hockey Journal)

The AHL fosters competition, but it also fosters rivalries.

And rivalries are good for business.

So it is, that the landmark business being turned by hockey impresario Howard Baldwin in Hartford with his rebranded Connecticut Whale isn’t being looked on by his league brethren (especially the New England side of the family) as any sort of threat.

Rather, it’s being looked on with interest.

“I don’t think it affects Springfield one little bit,” Falcons team president Bruce Landon said. “I’ve known Howard Baldwin since 1972. Know him as well or better than anybody. He feels if he can build the AHL market there and create a buzz, the way Winnipeg has created a buzz, that maybe (the NHL could return). But if nothing’s done, nothing’s going to happen. He’s taken the approach that if they can build the brand, and build the market, and get some buzz going, then maybe down the road, the NHL will look at Hartford.”

From Landon’s office, he can almost look directly at Hartford himself.

His venue, the MassMutual Center, is 35 miles door to door from Baldwin’s XL Center.

The two franchises are the closest neighbors in the 30-team league.

Baldwin is shaking the grassroots with his Whalers Hockey Fest — a two-week long outdoor celebration of hockey at Rentschler Field that will culminate in the Feb. 19 Whale Bowl clash between the Connecticut Whale and Providence Bruins — with an all-out marketing blitz.

He’s already created a ton of interest in the rebranded Whale (nee the Hartford WolfPack).

“Whether it’s going to work or not, who knows,” Landon said. “The bottom line is that it’s still the American Hockey League. Kevin Dineen and Ulfie Samuelsson aren’t coming through the door with their hockey bags, lacing up their skates.”

Whether or not Baldwin also created some cachet for his neighbor to the North is unknown.

Maybe yes and maybe no.

“Howard’s a great marketer,” Landon said. “I think he’s going to create a buzz. It may be short term. But to his credit, good for him. He’s put a lot of money into it.”

Landon, who single-handedly helped steer the Falcons franchise through some perilous waters and into the arms of new owner Charlie Pompea, believes there are enough hockey fans between the two cities to keep both buildings full.

Given the right marketing tools.

“We have a market that can be successful,” Landon said. “We’ve proven it in the past. Our little old market with a great facility. We can make it work. But we have to have some success on the ice and create our own little buzz. What they’re doing 30 miles south of us, (well) everybody’s got to worry about their own market.”

In that vein, then, Landon admits to being a subscriber to the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory.

“I believe that we need to make all the markets successful,” he said. “We need to feel that everybody has a chance to survive. And if this is what they feel they need to do to boost their base and create interest in hockey, it’s good for the league in that way. And in some ways, it’s good for Springfield.”

Around the AHL

Concerns about ice conditions at the MassMutual Center have forced postponement of the Feb. 8 Bridgeport at Springfield matchup. The game will now be played Feb. 16. …

Wilkes-Barre and former Northeastern goalie Brad Thiessen, who missed the AHL All-Star Classic because of injury, returned Monday to shut out the Albany Devils, 4-0, in a game played at Atlantic City’s opulent Boardwalk Hall. …

Portland’s Mark Mancari, who had an incendiary January (13-8-21), was named the AHL’s Player of the Month for his efforts. Mancari leads the league with 28 goals.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com