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Blues' new AHL team will be in Springfield, Mass.

Blues' new AHL team will be in Springfield, Mass.

St. Louis Blues training camp

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. (Post-Dispatch photo by Chris Lee)

The Blues' new American Hockey League affiliate will be in Springfield, Mass.

The Blues announced Friday they had signed a five-year affiliating agreement that starts next season with the Springfield Thunderbirds. Springfield had previously been the AHL team for the Florida Panthers.

The Blues had been in the market for a new affiliate since their current team, the San Antonio Rampage, was bought by the Vegas Golden Knights, who will make it their farm team and will move the franchise to Las Vegas after this season.

Springfield (population 155,000) is just above the Connecticut state line, and the closest major airport is in Hartford, so that's where players will be driving to catch a plane when they get called up.

It will also be convenient for two Blues executives. Assistant general manager Bill Armstrong lives in Rhode Island and Kevin McDonald, who serves as the San Antonio general manager, lives in North Andover, Mass., near the New Hampshire border. 

Springfield hopefully will provide some stability to the Blues farm system. The Blues had been using the Chicago Wolves, until the Wolves signed on as Vegas' farm team. The Blues then had a season without an affiliate -- a planned AHL expansion team that would have been their affiliate didn't materialize -- and then the past two seasons they have had San Antonio.

A previous Springfield AHL team, the Falcons, which had a young play-by-play man named Chris Kerber, moved to Tucson, Ariz., in May 2016. A group of Springfield businessmen bought the Portland (Maine) Pirates and moved them to Springfield, changed their named to the Thunderbirds, and began play in the fall of 2016.

"Springfield is a strong franchise in a city with a rich hockey history," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Our partnership will allow us to continue to develop our players and further strengthen our franchise as a whole."

The Blues control all hockey operations in San Antonio, so players and coaches under contract to the Blues there will simply move to Springfield.

The Blues have had their farm team in Massachusetts before. From 1995 to 2005, their AHL team was the Worcester IceCats. 

The Thunderbirds play in the MassMutual Center, an 8,000-seat arena in downtown Springfield. The city has had an AHL team going back to 1926.

Prior to being in Portland, the Thunderbirds franchise was in Baltimore and Erie, Pa.

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