T-Birds Open 2017-18 Season in ProvidenceOct 7, 2017
Providence, R.I. - The Springfield Thunderbirds begin their quest for the franchise's first playoff berth on Saturday when they visit the Providence Bruins at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Puck drop on Saturday night is set for 7:05 p.m. ET, and the broadcast can be heard on NewsRadio 560 WHYN, as well as the iHeartMedia app.
The Thunderbirds and Bruins will get to know one another very well in the 2017-18 season, as the two clubs will meet 14 total times, including in three of Springfield's first five regular season contests. A year ago, in a 12-game season series, the Bruins took home the victory on eight occasions, posting an 8-3-1-0 mark against Springfield. The Thunderbirds went 4-6-1-1 against their division rivals in 2016-17.
Springfield did, however, win two of the final three contests against the Bruins in the month of April as part of their five-game home ice winning streak to close the season.
Geordie Kinnear enters his second season as Thunderbirds head coach with plenty of familiarity on his roster. With the exception of veteran Mathieu Brodeur, who was signed to a PTO during training camp, Kinnear returns six of his regular defensemen from a season ago, including a healthy Reece Scarlett, who scored a goal in his first game as a Thunderbird on March 3 before being injured in the same game and missing the remainder of the season.
Up front, the Thunderbirds attack features a slew of new names with plenty of upside. Henrik Haapala led the Finnish professional league, Liiga, with 45 assists and 60 points in the 2016-17 season. Haapala is also a two-time defending league champion with Finnish club Tappara Tampere.
Blaine Byron was a highly sought-after commodity when he chose to forgo signing an entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. The University of Maine product opted to sign an AHL deal in Springfield after leading the Black Bears with 41 points in just 36 games last season in Hockey East and NCAA competition.
Panthers' 2016 sixth-round selection Maxim Mamin also will make his North American professional debut after he played parts of the last three seasons in the KHL with CSKA Moscow. Mamin scored 25 points in 42 games as a 21-year-old last season with CSKA.
In addition to those notable first-year contributors, the Thunderbirds also receive 91 points worth of the 2016-17 Utica Comets attack with the offseason additions of Curtis Valk and Alex Grenier. Valk is coming off his best season as a pro, which saw him score 16 goals and dish out 30 assists. Grenier adds power play prowess to a Springfield unit that finished near the bottom of the AHL in efficiency a season ago. Grenier has 28 power play goals at the AHL level dating back to the 2013-14 season.
Along with the newcomers, the Thunderbirds return four of their top six scorers, including team leader Chase Balisy (17g, 28a last season), Anthony Greco (16g, 15a), Dryden Hunt (13g, 18a), and Jayce Hawryluk (9g, 17a).
The newest faces will be the pair in goal for Springfield. At 27 years of age and the elder statesman on the Thunderbirds roster, Harri Sateri returns to the AHL after spending his last three professional seasons in the KHL with Podolsk Vityaz. The native of Toijala, Finland previously spent four seasons with the Worcester Sharks in the AHL from 2010-14. Sateri was spectacular in the preseason finale against Providence last Saturday, allowing nothing past him in a 1-0 shutout victory. Among his best work was a breakaway stop on Jesse Gabrielle and a sprawling glove save stretching to his left, also to rob Gabrielle.
Sharing the net with Sateri to start the season is 20-year-old Sam Montembeault. A third-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2015 NHL Draft, Montembeault is coming off a season in which he finished second in the QMJHL with a 2.40 goals-against average with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. The rookie had a 28-9-1 record and recorded a league-high six shutouts.
The Bruins enter their season opener with a very familiar face on their Opening Day roster, as former Thunderbird Sena Acolatse earned himself a roster spot following training camp. Springfield figures to have a stiff test in goal, with Zane McIntyre starting the season in Providence. The Thunderbirds could muster up only one goal in two games against the AHL All-Star a year ago, and only got one past him in a 1-0 win last Saturday to close the preseason.
Providence will have a new voice leading the squad, as Jay Leach takes the reigns with the Boston Bruins' affiliate following Kevin Dean's promotion to Boston assistant coach under another former Providence head coach, Bruce Cassidy. Leach served as an assistant under Dean a season ago and previously was an assistant and interim head coach with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2015-16.
Following tonight's season opener, the Thunderbirds and Bruins will get a grudge match on Friday, Oct. 13 back in Providence before Springfield returns home on Oct. 14.
The Thunderbirds open their 2017-18 home ice schedule on Saturday, Oct. 14 for a matchup with the rival Hartford Wolf Pack. Ticket memberships, including season tickets, are on sale now, starting at just $12 per game. Thunderbirds Full Season Ticket Members receive the most benefits, including a refillable collector’s mug and a commemorative jersey. For more information or to order now, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.