BRUCE Landon Officially Retires
BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
SPRINGFIELD, MA – You couldn’t have written a better ending to a great fair tale story.
Bruce Landon, the true face of Springfield hockey for the past 40 years, ended his career in the city to which he admits he owes everything to. Hartford also played a pivotal role in his planting roots over the border.
Almost with a sense of poetic justice in mind, the Thunderbirds and Wolf Pack close out the 2016-17 season at the same time as Landon closed his career as Springfield defeated Hartford, 5-1.
“You never look at that day in your career, but the timing is perfect for me,” Landon said. “I had a great career, a lot of years, friendships all developed in hockey and outside of the game. Alot of great memories. I kinda knew it quite some time ago, it still is a bit…bittersweet to be my last hockey game in an official capacity. So I can come next year as a fan, have a beer and if I want to leave after the second period, I can.”
Landon’s career began in Springfield when he was forced into an earlier management career after sustaining a knee injury, in practice no less. The culprit who ended Landon’s career? Jeff Carlson! Yes, that Jeff Carlson, one of the Hanson Brothers made famous from the movie, Slapshot. Landon took the adversity and ended up building a successful career from that experience.
“I started out as a player in Springfield. (I) had a good run in Hartford with the (New England) Whalers and both places are special to me for obvious reasons,” Landon said. “I have had a long run. To be honest, I’m very fortunate that there has not been a day that I haven’t looked forward to going to work every day and not many people can say that. I am ready to kick back, enjoy my family and see what my next chapter is.”
One thing he is really looking forward to—ditching the ties he has worn daily.
“I told my wife we’ll have a bonfire in the backyard and burn them all,” Landon said with a laugh. “Seriously, you see I have none on tonight. I want to be able to enjoy things a bit. I think the team is in good hands.”
Landon, 67, started at a time when the AHL nearly went out of business because of the player drainage resulting from the demand for players when the NHL and WHA battled for supremacy. The National Hockey League obviously prevailed.
Landon was learning the business from the team’s owner and helped him in staving off the American League’s demise. Landon was pivotal as one of the workers who kept things going before the two leagues eventually merged two years later.
“The landscape of the league has changed dramatically over the years. When we won back-to-back Calder Cups in 1989-1991, there were only 16 teams in the league at that time. Now we’re 30 teams soon to be 31, spread out now coast-to-coast. The game has changed. Cities have changed, but nothing ever stays the same in life. We have some markets struggling, but overall the league has a strong foundation right now.”
The back-to-back Calder Cup championships with the Springfield Indians, who were then owned by Peter Cooney, had two different affiliations. The first was with the New York Islanders and then the Hartford Whalers. What they did will never be duplicated. For Landon, he had both teams coached by the late Jim Roberts, is still his shining moment.
“You’ll never see that again. Jimmy Roberts was such a unique coach. He was a wonderful person and the person we wanted to coach the team again with the Whalers as the new affiliate. I have had so many great memories. We won a title here as a player and went to another Calder Cup final as a player. As GM, winning those back-to-back titles. We haven’t had a ton of success in recent years, but we won two Northeast Division titles. My only regret is that we didn’t get another Calder Cup for our fans in Springfield.”
It is not an understatement to say that Landon saved hockey in 1992 when Cooney sold the Indians to the late Roy Boe, who in turn moved them to Worcester. Landon, and his former teammate, Wayne LaChance, put together an improbable local consortium of over twenty business people to buy an AHL expansion franchise. They called the team, “The Falcons,” and kept hockey in the city for another 25 years. Landon assumed majority ownership in the early part of the 21st century and then sold it to businessman, Charlie Pompea, and quietly assisted its survival last summer when Arizona (nee Phoenix) purchased the Falcons and moved them to Tucson. It looked like AHL hockey was going to be gone from Springfield.
Landon always was a good teammate, despite making the primary assist in getting the Portland Pirates sold to a new local consortium in very rapid time downplays his role. Landon, with very good standing, sounds a note of caution with the new incoming MGM casino opening literally down the street and who will assume operational control of the Mass Mutual Center from Spectra on July 1st. The community has helped increase the team’s attendance this year, but they have to be in it for the long term.
“MGM is obviously a big factor, but you can’t rely on them to do everything. The new ownership group was able to purchase the Pirates and fortunate for us and unfortunate for Portland. It was done very quickly and with some of the most prominent business people in this city and they’re here for the long term. This is not a get rich quick, flip it in two, three years kind of venture. The future of hockey in Springfield is in the strongest position it has ever been. They have three years to go on our agreement with the Florida Panthers. We have three years to go on our lease here. We’ll have a billion dollar casino on our front doorstep soon. That is obviously a good thing and only time will tell how much effect it will have. MGM has been a very good corporate partner so far. The people have to keep behind the team and whatever small part I played I can leave with a good feeling that hockey in Springfield is here for the long haul.”
The GM, former player and talent evaluator has seen the game change over the 40 years.
“The size and speed of today’s players are amazing. The game is quick and fast. If you can’t skate you can’t play the game anymore. The pace of the game is so good now. The skill level has changed. I think in part with the influx of more and more European players, it’s made an impact. The physicality has gone out of the game a bit. I hope not too much more. I think we are a contact sport and should keep it that way. As an old goalie, I can say this – ‘Everybody can shoot now.’
Back in my day, you would have four or five guys you had to worry about. Now, you see those 5’8 – 5’9 guys are shooting the puck 100 mph. In part, it’s the change in the stick composition (graphite from wood). The speed now is unbelievable.”
Over the years, there have been some fine Landon-led Springfield teams starting with Michel Picard and his 56 goal season; the emergence of a young superstar in the just retired, Daniel Briere; to the blazing speed and timely scoring of Jean-Guy Trudel, who is now a coach in Peoria (SPHL). Trudel’s development of goalies like Kay Whitmore, George Maneluk, David LeNeveau and Devin Dubnyk were all made possible by Landon’s effort to keep hockey in Springfield.
With his place secure in the AHL Hall of Fame, the street in front of the Mass Mutual Center bearing his name, and his entrance into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame, the one trait he is most proud of is being a people person. Watching him meet with the off ice crew on his last night, Landon did his best to hold his composure with all the hugs and handshakes.
“That is something I am most proud of because it’s who I am. I have always been a people person and its sounds cliché, but I will miss the friendships and the people here. We developed truly important friendships. I had a picture taken tonight with the ice crew before the game and it dawned on me – I literally have grown up with some of them.”
Landon who arrived on a bus from Kingston, Ontario 40 years ago in search of a hockey dream has made some fine glove saves on the ice, but the ones he made off it on behalf of Springfield hockey will never be forgotten and should always be appreciated for generations to come.
The third AHL player to sign in Europe next season and the first since the regular season ended is Chad Billins of the Utica Comets. He is heading for the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and Linkopings HC.
The other two players are both going to Switzerland. Springfield goalie Reto Berra to HC Fribourg-Gotteron – whose Sports Manager is former Wolf Pack Christian Dube. Syracuse’s Joel Vermin, the other signee, is expected to go HC Lausanne. Both teams are in the NLA league.
Springfield sent two players – Thomas Schemitisch and Zac Lynch to the Manchester Monarchs (ECHL) and Steven MacAulay to the Florida Everblades (ECHL) for the ECHL playoffs.
The NCAA released the list of college regional sites and Frozen Four venues for the next five years. Regionals return to the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport next spring with Allentown, PA, and the brand new PPL Center – home of the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms – gaining the Midwest regional. Penn State is the host school. Two regional ECHL cities, Worcester and Manchester, along with Providence are in the mix. The Frozen Four returns to the region in Boston in 2022.