Bruce Landon has just about seen it all when it comes to minor league hockey. He’s been a goaltender, general manager and team owner in Springfield, Massachusetts.
And he’s a big reason why the tradition of hockey in the city, which dates back to the 1920s, continues today.
Landon is retired now, but recently wrote a book about his experiences called, “The Puck Stops Here: My (not So) Minor League Life.” I asked him about his motivation to tell his story.
Bruce Landon, author: It was inspired by my late daughter, Tammy. A couple weeks after I had retired in May of 2017, we’re sitting around my backyard having a drink, and we got talking, telling stories about my life and some stories, my hockey career and some things that she wasn’t aware of.
She basically said, “Why don’t you start writing these down?” She was a grant writer for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, and an English major from Elms College, so she was a very, very good writer herself. And she said, “Just start writing things down.”
I didn’t think it was gonna go anywhere, to be honest with you. I kept saying, “Who wants to read this?” And she said, “Trust me, trust me, trust me. Somebody is going to want to read it. We’ll put it together. It’ll be a project.” She’s one who inspired it. And then she got sick. Things happened.
Adam Frenier, NEPR: You came to Springfield to start your hockey career. You concluded your playing career here as a goaltender. How did you get involved in the front office aspect of hockey?
I had built a house here. I’d played in Springfield for three years, met my wife here, and after five years, with the [New England] Whalers.
The owner of the Springfield Indians at the time, George Leary, asked me if I would sign a contract — American Hockey League contract — to play with him in the ’77-’78 season. But he wanted me to do some summer sales work in ’77. So I agreed to do it, and then went in to play for him in the ’77 season, then blew out my knee, and he gave me the opportunity to either get surgery and come back and play, or go right into the front office.
I opted at the time, due to all the injuries I had my career early on, just to get into the front office in December of 1977 and was basically there ever since.
And the responsibilities with the then-Indians just continued to grow?
Absolutely. Back then, I started out in just group sales and marketing, public relations, worked my way up to general manager. Eventually, the whole story of, you know, when the Indians were sold — I ended up putting a group together to buy a new franchise called the Falcons.
What was it like deciding to jump into ownership? The Indians left after the 1994 season. It looked like Springfield was going to be without a hockey team, and you and a former teammate came to the rescue.
We were able to put a group together that believed in how important it was to keep hockey in Springfield. Nobody wanted to see it leave, and it had been sold. It was moving to Worcester. So Wayne LaChance, my buddy and teammate, we got together and put an ownership group together. In two weeks, we were able to apply for a franchise in the American Hockey League.
It was exciting and crazy times trying to put the investment group together, but it all worked out.
It must’ve been quite a whirlwind doing that in the space of 14 days.
It was. It was more than a whirlwind. It was 24/7 around the clock to not only get the investment group together, to get a budget together and go through all the hoops that we had to do for the American Hockey League in order make a presentation to them.
I was the face of the franchise, but there were a lot of people behind the scenes that wanted it to happen as well. We were able to pull it off and launched in the ’94 season with a brand new franchise here in Springfield.
People may not realize that Springfield hockey for decades was not played in downtown Springfield, it was played on the Big E grounds in the Eastern States Coliseum, which is still there. What was it like to play there?
It was a unique building. It had a bit of charm. It was an older building. It was a noisy building. And, if they get there, 5,000 people in there, with the wooden floors, you heard them. But it was very small ice surface, and you had to adapt as a player. Great crowds back then. Good fan support, loyal fan support, more of a real die-hard hockey base back then, probably than what there is now.
I understand there was one incident you were involved in that the police got involved in as well and you ended up getting arrested.
Yes. Not something I like to talk about too much, but I did. And it’s in my book, obviously, I talk about it.
It was a brawl on the ice between Rochester and Springfield. Both players at that time sat in the same penalty box, and they got into a fight in the penalty box, and the police jumped in the middle, and our trainer jumped in. I was rooming with our trainer at the time and I was in full uniform, but sitting on the bench. I wasn’t playing that game.
So I jumped in to help our trainer out. And then the police swarmed all over the place, and both Peter Demers and I got arrested for — oh, a couple of things, but all the charges eventually got dropped. That’s all that matters.
As a player or as a front-office person, what’s the accomplishment you’re the most proud of?
Well, I think first as a player, just turning pro, getting a pro contract with the L.A. Kings, and getting a shutout my very first pro game, I guess, is something I’ll always remember. I think if I got shellacked that night, you’d forget it pretty quickly. But I had a 6-0 shutout of Baltimore. Certainly that was a highlight.
Going to the Calder Cup Finals when I was the number one goaltender and getting beat out in the finals was exciting.
I had some highlights as a player. Going to the Whalers — the Whalers were a class organization and we had a team in 1972 that could have beaten a lot of the NHL teams. We won a championship that year.
And, in management, certainly getting awarded the franchise to become an owner in 1994 was certainly a thrill for me.
As you look at hockey in Springfield, how do you foresee the future?
I think the Thunderbirds are well-positioned. First of all, ownership is key. They’ve got a really great group of owners who are committed to the city, passionate about the city. They don’t want to see it leave. They’ve got the casino down the street now. Downtown is buzzing. There’s a lot development going on downtown, so I think the future is very, very strong.
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