SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – 2021-22 was a season of remarkable achievement for the Springfield Thunderbirds, falling three wins short of hoisting the Calder Cup in the first year of their new affiliation with the St. Louis Blues. Although the summer following this remarkable run has had the same impact to the Thunderbirds’ roster as it has on their foe, the Chicago Wolves, Springfield is wasting no time in rebuilding their roster in conjunction with their NHL affiliate to target a return to the Calder Cup in 2023. Plotting that return trip may prove to be the organization’s toughest task yet, but the organization has the pieces in place to start that journey in the fall.
Make no mistake, the list of lost players is lengthy and looms large over the Thunderbirds. Goaltender Charlie Lindgren signed in the NHL as a well-earned promotion to play on a tandem with Stanley Cup Champion Darcy Kuemper on the Washington Capitals. Outstanding forwards like Dakota Joshua signed with the Vancouver Canucks, Mackenzie MacEachern with the Carolina Hurricanes, and both James Neal and Sam Anas are unrestricted free agents at the NHL level at this point. The departures loom large as there is now an opportunity for those in the organization to step up and earn that ice time.
The good news for the Thunderbirds is that a strong core group is present. Veteran blue liner and captain Tommy Cross signed an AHL contract for the upcoming season alongside midseason acquisition Will Bitten and Hugh McGing. Most importantly, the crease seems set for Joel Hofer to take the reins after an impressive playoff run with Vadim Zherenko and Colten Ellis signed to entry level contracts by the Blues. Despite the significant losses, having players of such high quality make the Thunderbirds the envy of any AHL team and one of the best teams in the Atlantic Division early on in free agency.
Not to mention, the organization was busy with several key signings to round out the lineup, the biggest of which was coveted AHL free agent Martin Frk, who joins the Blues on a two-way contract after previously holding the hardest shot in the AHL at the Skills Competition last time it was held in early 2020. He’s joined by three strong AHL level signings in Matthew Highmore, who previously skated with Vancouver, as well as former Pittsburgh property Anthony Angello. Rounding out the group is forward Dylan McLaughlin, who skated with the Rockford IceHogs last season and is a former teammate of McGing’s during their days in the USHL.
While the Blues do not have the largest amount of talent breaking into the professional ranks this season, they made up for it with a strong crop of AHL signings for the upcoming season. The group still maintains a strong mixture of youth and veteran experience, and while it appears players who largely skated with the Blues will remain in St. Louis with the likes of Nathan Walker and Scott Perunovich joined by Calder Cup winner Josh Leivo on one-way contract extensions, St. Louis appears to be one of the league’s hottest destinations for success in professional hockey. It would be no surprise to see the Thunderbirds contending for the Atlantic Division crown once more when the puck drops in the 2022-23 season.
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