American Hockey League (1967-1975)
Born: June 5, 1967 – Re-branded from Springfield Indians.
Died: February 7, 1975 – Re-branded as Springfield Indians in midseason.
Owner: Eddie Shore (leased to Jack Kent Cooke).
Springfield, Massachusetts is the administrative base and spiritual home of the venerable American Hockey League. AHL hockey has been a winter mainstay in the Western Massachusetts city virtually without interruption for three-quarters of a century. For much of that time, the city’s team was known as the Indians and was controlled by Eddie Shore, the legendary Boston Bruins star and Hall-of-Famer. Shore bought the Indians in 1939 as his NHL career was winding down and actually played in the AHL and NHL simultaneously during the 1940 playoffs.
The Indians under Shore were rarely competitive with the major exception of the years 1960 to 1962, when the club had an affiliation with the New York Rangers and dominated the AHL, winning three consecutive Calder Cup championships. As an owner, Shore was a notorious eccentric and skinflint. His dealings with Indians players became increasingly antagonistic during the mid-1960′s. During the 1966-67 season, Shore suspended three key players without pay – and then two more who had the temerity to approach him as spokesmen for the team. The players felt they had little recourse to appeal to the league, since AHL President Jack Butterfield also happened to be Shore’s nephew.
Instead the players struck. Bobby Orr’syoung agent Alan Eagleson represented the striking Indians and the resulting negotiations forced Shore to give up control of the team. He leased the operating rights to the club to Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the expansion Los Angeles Kings of the NHL who needed a farm club for his Major League franchise for the fall of 1967. Shore continued to control the AHL’s franchise certificate as well as the lease and concessions business at the Eastern States Coliseum, but had no say in the hockey operations of the team. Cooke took responsibility for all of the team’s expenses, which would later become a source of dissatisfaction. The Indians changed their name to the Springfield Kings for the 1967-68 season to coincide with the debut of the L.A. Kings in the NHL.
The Kings finest hour came during the 1971 Calder Cup playoffs. Los Angeles provided a trio of top prospects in center Butch Goring, winter Al McDonough and future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Billy Smith. Nevertheless the Kings were mediocre in the regular season, finishing with a losing record of 29-35-8. They had to beat the Quebec Aces in a play-in game to make the playoffs, which they barely managed thanks to an overtime goal from Goring.
Once into the 1971 postseason, the Kings were unbeatable, reeling off ten wins in eleven games, culminating in a four-game sweep of the Providence Reds in the Calder Cups finals. Butch Goring was unstoppable, writing his name in the AHL record books with 11 goals and 14 assists during the Kings’ Cinderella run.
In 1972 the Kings moved out of the Eastern States Coliseum and into the brand new Springfield Civic Center. However, the move coincided with a steep drop in the team’s attendance, falling from over 5,000 per game during the team’s final two seasons at the Big E to under 3,500 in 1972-73. It didn’t help that the Kings were awful that winter, with an 18-42-6 record.
In the winter of the 1974-75, the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association played the early portion of their home schedule in Springfield while waiting for construction to be completed on the Hartford Civic Center. This further damaged the Kings’ faltering box office, which was down to approximately 2,500 customers per night. Out in L.A., Jack Kent Cooke was fed up with the reported $800,000 in red ink rung up by the Kings since moving into the new Civic Center two seasons earlier. In January 1975 Cooke threatened to pull 15 of his prospects out of Springfield immediately midway through the season and stop funding the team. In February 1975 the Kings gave the keys to the franchise back to Eddie Shore, who immediately reinstated the classic Springfield Indians name and colors midway through the season. Crucially though, the Kings agreed to keep their prospects in Springfield and to pay their salaries. Despite the winter of turmoil, the Kings/Indians went on to win Springfield’s fifth Calder Cup championship in the spring of 1975.
The Indians remained in Springfield until 1994, when the franchise moved across the state to become the Worcester IceCats. The AHL, whose central office is located in the Western Massachusetts city, immediately awarded a new franchise known as the Springfield Falcons to begin play in the fall of 1994. The Falcons continue to play today and AHL hockey has now run continuously in Springfield for 60 seasons.
==Kings Games on Fun While It Lasted==
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