When the NHL season did not start on time, some players that would have been on NHL rosters were eligible to report to their AHL affiliates. The number of players actually able to do this varied from team to team with some AHL teams getting a lot of help and others getting little to none. The Springfield Falcons, affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, were one of the teams that had a large number of players join them from Columbus. Those players allowed the team to have an excellent start to their season, going 23-9-3-3 through the halfway mark of the season. It was a level of success that the franchise had not seen in awhile, having not been in the playoffs since the 2002-2003 season. That year they lost in the first round.
However, the NHL did eventually get started up and since then, the Falcons have not been as dominant as they were to start the season. So far, 12 players that started the year in Springfield have spent time in the NHL. Of those 12, there are 6 on the active roster for the Blue Jackets. Players like Cam Atkinson, Ryan Johansen, and Tim Erixon all started the season in the AHL. Even despite the number of games they have spent with Columbus, Atkinson and Johansen are still in the top five on the team in goals while Erixon is still in the top 5 for assists. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Nick Drazenovic are currently leading the team in points, but both have spent time in the NHL as well. Head Coach Brad Larsen and his team have had to make a lot of adjustments.
In addition to the players lost to Columbus, the Falcons also lost Tomas Kubalik and Patrick Cullity in trades to the Winnipeg Jets. From that, they gained Spencer Machacek and Matthew Ford, both of whom had been playing with the Jets AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Ice Caps. Despite being 12-9-2-1 so far in the second half the season with 14 games to go, Coach Larsen is not yet concerned. He does not need to be. His team still easily has a winning record and they are still in the lead for their division by 9 points. With a win last night, they surpassed their point total from all of last season. Springfield currently has 79 points and earned only 78 last season, going 36-34-3-3.
The Falcons have been fortunate to get some players back that had missed a good chunk of the season to injury. They have also made use of a lot of players called up from the ECHL. With the roster constantly changing and rarely looking the same from one game to the next, the players have had to adjust to roles as needed. Players like Trent Vogelhuber and Nathan Moon, in the first and second professional seasons respectively, have looked to make the most of the opportunity. Both spent time in the ECHL with Evansville and are currently on call-ups.
“It’s been tough. This team has been right at the top of the league all year,” rookie Trent Vogelhuber said of the team. “Now we’re kind of facing the first adversity of the season. It’s tough with everyone being up and down but we’ve got a great group.”
Vogelhuber has really loved the chance to play in the AHL this season and prove himself. Although the transition from Miami University last season to professional hockey last season to professional hockey has not been easy, it has been a great opportunity. The transition has been made easier by former Miami teammate, Will Weber, who is also a rookie with the team and by the fact that Vogelhuber was drafted by Columbus and had participated in development camps. Second year pro Nathan Moon is getting his chance with a new organization this year after having spent last season with the Worcester Sharks. After starting the season in the ECHL, he wants to show he belongs and that he can help.
“I come here and try to work hard to prove I can play here. When I’m called upon, I try to do what I can.,” Moon said. “We’ve faced some adversity but it’s about all of us working hard and getting pucks in deep to make things happen.”
This team knows that the most important part of stringing wins together for the remainder of the season is that everyone work hard. Coaches and players alike seem to agree that they have a great group right now. Everyone is on board for the push to the end of the season and into the playoffs. This weekend, they host their conference rivals, the Worcester Sharks, for the last time in Springfield before traveling down to Bridgeport on Saturday night. With these games, the Falcons are hoping to start a winning streak and work on finishing the season strong.