Springfield Falcons Benefit from NHL Lockout

Mark M.Murray, Associated Press

The NHL lockout has offered a different looking American Hockey League (AHL) this season. Most teams have two to three skaters playing in the AHL who would normally be in the NHL, but because of their two-way contracts, it allows them to play in the minor-leagues during the lockout.

“Obviously the top of every roster got better,” Head Coach Brad Larson of the Springfield Falcons, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ affiliate,  said. “But it also pushed two or three guys off the bottom of the roster, too, pushed them out of the lineup or maybe to the (East Coast Hockey League). So this league, which has always been a good league, is now super competitive every night. It’s been great.”

The Falcons currently sit atop of the Northeast Division with a 15-5-2-3 record for 35 points. They currently have an eight point gap on second placed Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Springfield also ranks near the top of the league statistically. They have the second best winning percentage (.700), the best goal differential (+29 in 25 games), and the second best road-record (9-2-1).

With the Columbus Blue Jackets’ President of Hockey Operation John Davidson looking for a complete overhaul of the organization, it is nice to know that such talent and skill is in system. Hopefully when the season starts, the lucky few who have been playing with the Falcons, can bring the winning attitude and culture to NHL team.

“Losing is the worst feeling in the world,” Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson said. “But when you’re on a team like this … it’s just about the best feeling you can get. You get a certain vibe pretty early on with the right group, with a group of guys who are committed to working hard, playing hard, playing for each other and playing to win. There’s just been that kind of feeling since very early in the season, and it’s a great feeling coming to the rink every day.”

Much like their NHL affiliate, Head Coach Larsen is looking for a new beginning. Larsen, who is in his first year as Head Coach after being an Assistant Coach for two years with the club, opened training camp with everyone on equal ground.

“One thing we’ve really hammered home here is accountability,” said Larsen. “It was a little bit too loose around here for a few years. So when we first talked with the guys it was just ‘OK, guys, the joke’s over.’

“Right now it doesn’t matter who you are or who you think you are, we’re all in this together, we’re all going to play the same way.”

Larsen is aware of the positive impact the NHL lockout has had on the team. Not only because of an enhanced roster, but for an actual roster that stays the same.

“Selfishly, the lockout has been great for us,” Larsen said. “We had the ability to run an actual, full training camp. Usually you start camp with 12 guys, and maybe none of them are even on your opening night roster, right? For us, it was a lot of work early, but we could implement structure and systems, get our chemistry … really try some things in camp, where you don’t normally have the luxury.

“Let’s be honest: We’re in a league that everybody’s disappointed to be in — they want to be in the NHL — so the challenge is to motivate these guys to play as a team. That’s not so much of an issue with the current circumstances.”

Springfield’s next game is Wednesday, the 19th, against Atlantic Division leader the Portland Pirates. It will be the second of the three game road trip.

While the NHL continues to be locked out the Falcons continue to benefit, but the team knows the challenges they face. The season is still young, and last year the team placed fourth in their division and out of the playoffs. With new Head Coach Larsen’s focus on accountability and a solid start to the season, hopefully the organization’s nine-season playoff hiatus will come to an end.

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