I think October is a month of firsts for me. I went to my first ever corn maze over the long weekend, and this past weekend, I went to my first ever hockey game. I’m not a hockey fan; every year I try to get into it by watching random games here and there, but nothing has stuck so far. So it’s probably surprising that I went to a hockey game in person.
The Springfield Thunderbirds—formerly known as the Springfield Falcons—are one of the two local AHL teams, and they play about 20 minutes from where I live. Even though I don’t know much about hockey, I’ve always been interested in going because it seems like a fun time regardless. I never had anyone to go with, until now. Enter Josh.
A friend had a friend pass away recently, and as a way to remember her, they wanted to set up a scholarship in her name and were selling tickets to the Thunderbirds home opener with some of the ticket cost going toward the scholarship. Josh and I had been talking about going to a game this season, so when this opportunity came up, I asked if he wanted to go and he said yes.
Before the game, we went to dinner in downtown Springfield at Smith’s Billards. It was my first time there but I had heard about it before. It’s a small bar with a food menu from the BBQ restaurant below it—Theodore’s—plus a bunch of pool tables.
Game 2 of the ALCS was on by the time we got there, and I appreciated the projector they had set up with the game so we were able to watch it.
I got Loophole Festbier and we split an order of fried pickles. Josh and I agreed that these were the best fried pickles we’ve had so far. If I could have ordered an entire bucket of them I would have. For my meal, I got the pulled pork sandwich and Josh got the blackened chicken sandwich.
After we finished eating, we walked back toward the MassMutual Center where the Thunderbirds play. (It’s a big event venue that has ballrooms, meeting rooms, and an arena. My senior formal in college was held in one of the ballrooms.) There was a big block party happening across the street from the Center that was put on by the Thunderbirds but we just checked it out from a distance; we didn’t venture over to it.
The doors opened at 6:05 p.m., so we went in at that time and walked around the concourse before getting beers and going to our seats. I got Loophole First Encounter and Josh got Amherst Brewing Jess.
The funny part is that Josh and I don’t know much about hockey outside of the basics, so it was the blind leading the blind when it came to what was happening in the game.
It had been 587 days since the last Thunderbirds game as the team opted out of the 2020-21 season due to COVID. I think that added to the excitement of opening night, and I definitely felt that in the arena. I was even getting excited about it, and I don’t know half of the rules of the game. I think that’s something special about sports: it can bring people together and make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.
Let’s talk about two things:
- The Thunderbirds have a mascot, and his name is Boomer. You bet that I avoided him. Josh knows my fear of mascots, so he’s willing to be a buffer in case I encounter any of them. This might seem out of character for me, but I kind of like Boomer? I won’t be going up to him anytime soon, but from a distance, he seemed pretty cool. He drove an ATV around on the ice and even skated around; I give him a lot of credit for that.
- There were pyrotechnics inside. As they were introducing each Thunderbirds player, they’d light off fireworks, and I was like, that’s fire. Inside a building. The smoke lingered around for most of the first period.
The Thunderbirds were playing the Hartford Wolfpack, the other local AHL team in the area. I was rooting for the Thunderbirds, but in the grand scheme of things, I just hoped both teams had fun.
We were in a reserved section for those who bought tickets for the scholarship, and my friend and her family were sitting in the row behind us. She was happy we bought tickets, and we were happy to support her. The highlight of the game was the three fights that happened. And although we didn’t know everything that was going on, Josh and I cheered when the Thunderbirds scored or the goalie blocked a shot by the Wolfpack. The Thunderbirds won 2-1.
We’re definitely going back to a game this season. On Friday nights, they have a special called “Deuces Wild” where it’s $2 beer, $2 hot dogs, and $2 sodas. That’s right up my alley. I always love going to minor league baseball games, and I’m glad my first hockey game was an AHL one. It was a fun atmosphere and the arena was small enough that I felt like I could see everything that was going on. And maybe in the mean time I’ll brush up on some more hockey rules.