The season caps off this weekend for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Despite the twists and turns on the ice, the team's second AHL season has certainly recorded a win in the growing fan base column.
Hockey is officially back in Springfield.
The Thunderbirds are now two years old and you can see it. From the fans in the stands to the intensity on the ice, this franchise is not even close to touching their ceiling.
"I think the success this year has been unexpected from my perspective, just the amount of success we've had in two years," said Thunderbirds president Nathan Costa.
The team jumped out the gates with back-to-back wins, only to lose 12 of their next 14 games including six in a row.
However, the team rallied slowly, but surely. Now just two games under .500 with three games left, the Thunderbirds will not make the playoffs for the second straight year, but they have seen success at the box office.
Costa told Western Mass News it's the community outreach that has made the difference.
"I think it's really a testament to the fans coming out, especially with the rough start, but the team has really done a good job since then. It's been exciting hockey all year and I think we've tried to make this place a fun place to be," Costa noted.
Typical of most sports, new franchises will often see a dip in attendance in the second season.
That's not the case in Springfield. In fact, it was just the opposite.
In 2016, the Springfield Falcons were last in the league in attendance at 3,000 fans per game.
In 2017, the Thunderbirds first season, the team averaged about 4,600 fans a game, a more than 50 percent increase, good for 20th in the AHL.
This year, the average went up again to nearly 5,000 fans a night, up another 10 percent.
Sellouts also tripled this year from three games to nine games.
The team has spent countless hours making each game night unique and have had more than 100 community appearances this season alone.
"Trying to give the fans the value they want to see when they come out, and the product speaks for itself," Costa explained.
As for what's next, well, the playoffs are just on the horizon.
"We had a really young team and we're hopeful that a lot of those guys will come back and get another year under their belt," Costa said.
This weekend happens to be Fan Appreciation Weekend for the team and the fans - and it starts tonight.
CLICK HERE for all things Thunderbirds as they close out the season.
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