The Springfield Thunderbirds are a minor professional ice hockey team in the American Hockey League (AHL) that began play for the 2016–17 season as the affiliate of the National Hockey League (NHL)'s Florida Panthers.
Based in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Thunderbirds play their home games at the MassMutual Center.
In May 2016, following the relocation of the Springfield Falcons to Tucson, Arizona, after the team was sold to the Arizona Coyotes, the AHL's Portland Pirates were sold to a Springfield-based group who intended to relocate the franchise to Springfield for the 2016–17 season.
The new owners were a consortium of local business interests seeking to keep hockey in Springfield, and included Paul Picknelly, owner of the Springfield Marriot and member of the family owning Peter Pan Bus Lines as well as several local hotel owners.
A team from Springfield has taken the ice in the AHL and its predecessors for all but seven years since 1926, and in every season since 1954.
The Thunderbirds inherited the Florida Panthers' affiliation with the Pirates. The Panthers assigned their assistant general manager, Eric Joyce, to be Springfield's general manager and named Geordie Kinnear as the new head coach.
The Thunderbirds also named Bruce Landon, the Falcons' and Indians' longtime president and general manager as a consultant while hiring AHL executive Nathan Costa as their executive vice-president in charge of business operations.
The team's new name was announced at a press conference on June 15, 2016. Team management explained that Thunderbirds invokes both the mythological Thunderbird and the United States Air Force presence in the region, such as the Barnes and Westover Air Reserve Bases.
The Thunderbirds played their first game on October 15, 2016, a 4–2 loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Anthony Greco scored the first goal in team history.
On October 22, 2016, the Thunderbirds played their home opener, a 5–4 win against the St. John's IceCaps. Dryden Hunt scored the first goal on home ice and MacKenzie Weegar scored the game winning goal in overtime in front of a sellout crowd of 6,793.
While the inaugural season did not result in a playoff berth, average attendance rose from 3,108 in the Falcons' last season to 4,618 and including three sellouts.
The market was previously home to:
- Springfield Indians (1926–1994)
- Springfield Falcons (1994–2016)
|2016–17||76||32||33||9||2||75||.493||197||206||6th, Atlantic||2017||Did not qualify|
- Brent Regner: 2016–present
- #2: Eddie Shore
- #23: Rob Murray
(Note: Shore's number was retired by the Springfield Indians and Murray's by the Springfield Falcons; the Thunderbirds continue to honor both numbers. Former AHL President Jack Butterfield and Vice-President Gordie Anziano, longtime Springfield residents, as well as former Indians general manager and Falcons founder Bruce Landon, have been honored with banners raised with the retired numbers).