Thunderbirds open season at home for first time in four years

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Hockey is back in Springfield.

The minor league team for the Florida Panthers, the Thunderbirds, kicked off the new season at the Mass Mutual Center.

It’s the first time in four seasons that the Thunderbirds opened the season at home and they opened in front of a sold-out crowd.

Thousands gathered in downtown Springfield to see the Thunderbirds face off with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, both veteran fans and some new ones.

"This is my first game and I just want to have some fun, and hope the Thunderbirds win," Longmeadow resident Xander Aiken tells us.

Fans tell Western Mass News they think the team looks stronger than ever coming into the new season.

"They’re more in tune with each other than they were last year, so I'm looking forward to them getting a big win tonight," says Springfield resident James Codding.

Springfield celebrated the return of hockey season with a big block party before the game, featuring food, games, and live music.

President of the Thunderbirds, Nathan Costa, says the energy surrounding the home opener is special.

"There’s a lot of energy in downtown Springfield, which, necessarily, wasn’t here before, so it’s exciting to see the city come together and rise up with us," explained Costa.

Local fans tell Western Mass News they love having a team right in their backyards to root for.

"I think that the Thunderbirds is what brings this community together, because when hockey starts, that’s it. Everybody loves hockey," added Codding.

The Thunderbirds are back in action tomorrow afternoon against the Charlotte Checkers.

The puck is scheduled to drop at 3:05 inside the Mass Mutual Center.