The AHL and IHL before it were an afterthought to me for a very long time. The Tampa Bay Lightning's former affiliates - the Atlanta Knights, the Detroit Vipers, the Cleveland Lumberjacks, and the Springfield Falcons - didn't matter much. As it was presented in the press, the minors in hockey didn't mean jack. Player development wasn't how it was supposed to be done at all. The guys who played down there were reservists at best: just-in-case players.
It wasn't until the OK Hockey era that the minors seemed to matter. That's not to say the OK Hockey ownership group had a sterling reputation with then-affiliate Norfolk and the Admirals franchise... But there was more of a wish to have a competitive minor league team.
Before Norfolk, though, came Springfield. The Springfield Falcons of the AHL were affiliated with the Lightning during the (Lightning) playoff years of 2005 - 2007... And things did not go well between the two franchises.
Player development wasn't a big deal to the Palace Sports and Entertainment regime. They were running the Lightning as a business to a T and while the Lightning was competitive, investing in the franchise further than the actual NHL squad wasn't in the cards.
The Falcons suffered. The relationship between franchises was... Well, I don't know. What I do know is that Springfield does not think fondly back to those days.
I mention all of this because Tomorrow, Springfield, Massachusetts hosts the opening game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Falcons and Tampa Bay's current AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
The fans, if not the staff members who have remained over the years, may see this as a grudge match; A chance to knock Tampa off through its minor league affiliate. That's a pleasant little bit of revenge that may or may not exist.
Similarly, that type of sentiment is being shared by some Syracuse Crunch fans. See, the Crunch had a strained affiliation of their own in the past with Springfield's current parent club, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Alex Ackerman has spoken about that strained relationship before (and the contempt she holds toward the Jackets organization) in the past.
While the focus for both teams is squarely on the moment and on the task of advancing to the AHL Eastern Conference Finals, it's just worth noting that there is some unspoken drama behind the scenes and in the stands of this second round matchup.
The schedule is as follows:
Game 1 - Friday May 10 - Syracuse at Springfield, 7 p.m.
Game 2 - Saturday, May 11 - Syracuse at Springfield, 7 p.m.
Game 3 - Wednesday, May 15 - Springfield at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Game 4 - May 17 - Springfield at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
*Game 5 - May 18 - Springfield at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
*Game 6 - May 21 - Syracuse at Springfield, 7 p.m.
*Game 7 - May 22 - Syracuse at Springfield, 7 p.m.