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Posted on June 5, 2016 at 3:20 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Investors backing the latest Springfield entry into the American Hockey League come from industries as diverse as hotels, real estate development, construction, doughnuts and the law.


But whatever business they do, they do it in Springfield, key members of the ownership group said Friday while meeting with editors and reporters at The Republican and MassLive.


And the new investors plan on drawing on that diversity of local business contacts, as well as what they see as a rebounding downtown Springfield and a sense that patrons are looking for entertainment – like music and contests – in addition to hockey as they fill seats in what has too often been a sparsely filled MassMutual Center.


"What is going to be fun is the first night we fill that house with 6,500 people for the first time and they are all enjoying it, feeling secure and having a good time," said Springfield Hockey LLC part-owner Fran Cataldo of C&W Real Estate.


The ownership group is still recruiting new investors, but it was able to reveal many of its members at the meeting: Paul Picknelly, president of Monarch Enterprises and the Springfield Sheraton; Cataldo and his business partner at C&W, Mike Wallace; Frank Colaccino of Colvest, a developer of retail property; attorney Frank Fitzgerald; Derek Salema and Peter Martins, who own Dunkin' Donuts franchises in the area; David Fontaine of Fontaine Brothers Construction in Springfield; Dinesh Patel, owner of the Hampton Inn & Suites hotel in Springfield's South End; and Vidhyadhar Mitta, owner of the Quality Inn in Chicopee.


Springfield investors step up to save hockey for city

Springfield investors step up to save hockey for city

The city seemed doomed to lose its team before a local group called Portland.


Springfield Hockey LLC purchased the Portland Pirates AHL franchise last month. The ownership group cannot disclose the purchase price.


Fitzgerald, Picknelly, Cataldo and Colaccino were among the new hockey owners who visited with The Republican and MassLive's Editorial Board on Friday.


"It's a very diverse group," Cataldo said. "We all bring different skills to the table. But what we do share is a love of Springfield."


Also, insurance giant MassMutual Financial Group donated money to the Springfield Business Improvement District so it could buy in as nonprofit member of the ownership group, Fitzgerald said.


He added that the owners are still accepting new partners, including one who came forward the morning of the meeting.


"It's a state of flux," Fitzgerald said.


The same could be said of everything associated with the new hockey team, an enterprise Picknelly organized in just a few days after the Springfield Falcons left town for Arizona.


With training camp set to open at the end of the summer, deadlines for logos, colors, marketing plans and all the other things it takes to make a hockey team run are looming. The partners figure it's six or eight months of work stuffed into five or six weeks.


The one thing they know for certain: Opening night is Oct. 22.


The new team doesn't have a name, although a name-the-team contest on MassLive generated thousands of suggestions in 40 hours, Cataldo said. An announcement will be made in two weeks, just in time for Reebok to start making the uniforms, Picknelly said.


The Falcons name left with that franchise.


Florida Panthers top prospects and players to watch for next season

Florida Panthers top prospects and players to watch for next season

With the Portland Pirates reportedly set to relocate to Springfield for the upcoming 2016-17 AHL season, local fans will have to get used to a new crew of players taking the ice at the MassMutual Center. The Pirates — affiliates of the Florida Panthers — put together an impressive season in 2015-16, finishing fourth in the Atlantic Division with a...


"It can't be Falcons," Fitzgerald said. "It can be Indians. But that would be a management decision." Prior to the establishment of the Falcons in 1994, the AHL franchise in Springfield was known as the Springfield Indians.


Fitzgerald said the new team will play in the MassMutual Center, which is managed by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, but it hasn't signed a lease agreement yet. The group praised its early relationship with the MCCA.


The team will announce its day-to-day management this week.


Even specifics concerning the fun and diversions planned for hockey nights in Springfield will have to wait, the partners said.


"What is going to be fun is the first night we fill that house with 6,500 people for the first time and they are all enjoying it, feeling secure and having a good time." ~ Fran Cataldo

What they do have is an operating agreement with the Florida Panthers whereby the NHL club will send its prospects to play in Springfield.


"Hockey is here in Springfield," Picknelly said. "And here to stay."


AHL hockey – considered second-highest level in North America behind the National Hockey League – has a long history in Springfield going back to Eddie Shore, a pioneer of the game who played, coached and owned in the city. Springfield has had an AHL team since 1936, with the exception of a brief hiatus in the early 1950s. Springfield teams won Calder Cup championships in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1971, 1975, 1990 and 1991.


Picknelly described himself as a third-generation business owner in Springfield. His grandfather started Peter Pan Bus Lines, his father ran it and his brother runs it today.


Not only did he not want to see hockey go, but he feels that with $2.7 billion in ongoing public and private investment in the city, Springfield has the momentum to make the team a success.


"In my opinion, Springfield's time is now," he said.


And AHL hockey both preserves and enhances the good things going on in the city, Picknelly said. "This is high-quality entertainment at affordable rates," said Picknelly said. "This is exactly what Springfield needs."


Hockey nights also fill restaurants and mean millions of dollars in business downtown, Picknelly said.


"You can't get in Red Rose on a game night," he said of the popular South End restaurant.


The city just couldn't afford to lose that business, Picknelly said.


Picknelly said he and his partners did have to convince the Panthers and Peter Luukko, executive chairman of The Florida Panthers Hockey Club and Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, that Springfield was the right place to put his minor league team and his up-and-coming hockey prospects.


They new hockey team owners were able to fly him in, Picknelly said, and introduce him to people and show him the city from Union Station in the North End to Union Street in the South End, including the MGM site. They talked about promotions. They talked about police presence.


Luukko was very impressed with the city, Picknelly said, and its ability to support professional hockey.


AHL approval makes Springfield hockey's 'name game' next

AHL approval makes Springfield hockey's 'name game' next

It's not known whether the team will go by "Falcons" or another name.


"When he was getting on the plane at Bradley, he told us we would hear the next day," Picknelly said. "We thought we'd have to wait a week for an answer."


He added that Luukko is a UMass graduate who is from Worcester, facts that helped Springfield's cause.


MGM figures heavily in the partner's plans. Picknelly said he expects the casino to comp tickets, to promote the team to hotel guests as he will at his hotel. Picknelly is a 1 percent owner in MGM Springfield.


Also, Cataldo and Wallace sold South End real estate to MGM for the project. C& W's office buildings at 1200 Main St. and 85-95 State St. sold for $8.4 million.


Hockey is both a business investment as well as a civic undertaking, all four men agreed.


Colaccino spoke of the frantic first few days as Picknelly called around assembling his team of investors. He asked Picknelly if he'd get this money back eventually. When Picknelly said yes, Colaccino agreed that he was in.


"Springfield has been very good to me," the city native and American International College graduate and trustee said. "This is a way of giving back."


And they all have long histories with hockey in Springfield. Fitzgerald remembers Shore turning off the lights at the Eastern States Coliseum (where the Indians played until the then-Springfield Civic Center opened) to tell schoolboy teams that practice was over and to go home.


He said Shore threw him out of the rink once for putting his feet up on the chair in front of his seat during an Indians game.

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