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FALCONS GAME DAY: Opening Weekend

Friday, 10.12.2012 / 2:00 PM
By Rob Mixer - BlueJackets.com / CBJ Today

FALCONS OPEN SEASON WITH WEEKEND SET

In many ways, this is a fresh start for the Springfield Falcons that begins on Saturday night at the MassMutual Center.

There’s a new voice behind the bench in Brad Larsen. The club is equipped with a young, dynamic roster that features some of the Blue Jackets top prospects. They will be sporting sharp new third jerseys for the first time in franchise history when the puck drops, and there’s a sense of “together” that has been fostered from the changes.

Falcons president and GM Bruce Landon was quick to credit Chris MacFarland and the hockey operations staff in Columbus for a productive offseason, which yielded the signing of a new starting goaltender (Curtis McElhinney) and one of the soon-to-be offensive mainstays of the club (Jonathan Audy-Marchessault).

The progression of prospects within the Blue Jackets system has turned a deep group of defensemen into management’s biggest decision. Will Weber is ready for the pro ranks after a taste last season,Austin Madaisky has made the jump from the WHL and Tim Erixon joins the organization after a certain significant trade with the New York Rangers.

Sure, the American Hockey League is going to be as strong as it has possibly ever been this season, but that shouldn’t diminish the Falcons’ chances to contend – both within their division and within their conference.

THE RUNDOWN

A year ago, the Blue Jackets were dealing with a depleted roster post-trade deadline and countless injuries that mounted as the finish line approached. The Falcons were most affected by it: constant call-ups, a revolving door goaltending situation that was dealt an early blow with Mark Dekanich’s inability to stay healthy and a tough mid-season schedule.

All things considered, the fact that they were able to remain in the playoff hunt until the season’s final weekend is a testament to the group’s resolve and the level of talent Springfield has to build around.

Everyone in the Falcons organization has been waiting for this weekend. The AHL season gets under way tonight and Springfield opens with a pair of home games on Saturday and Sunday – first against St. John’s and then Adirondack to conclude the weekend.

Both are strong clubs and expect to contend throughout the season. The IceCaps were bolstered by some of the Winnipeg Jets’ prospects, and the Phantoms boast young stars like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier down the middle.

It will be no easy task for Larsen and the Falcons, who need to take advantage of a home-heavy schedule to open the calendar. Springfield plays nine of its first 11 games at the MassMutual Center and has a golden opportunity to set the pace in its division, where the majority of its regular-season games will be played.

Here are some keys to success for the Falcons on this exciting opening weekend:

1. Get quality goaltending – it was one of the team’s biggest struggles last season, and the situation wasn’t helped by the Blue Jackets instability between the pipes. The Falcons used a handful of goaltenders after losing Curtis Sanford to recall and Dekanich to injuries, and though they did an admirable job keeping the club together, Springfield needs a “hammer” in net to take it to the next level. The hope is that McElhinney can be the guy.

2. Get the puck in scorers’ hands – if the preseason proved anything, it’s that the Falcons have a dangerous duo high in the lineup in Ryan Johansen and Audy-Marchessault. JAM’s five preseason goals and a playmaking prowess from Johansen helped solidify the top line in exhibition, and they haven’t even added Cam Atkinson to the right wing yet.

3. Build early momentum – we’re due for an electric atmosphere at “The Nest,” especially on opening night with a sellout expected. The Falcons need to get the building going early, preferably by scoring a couple of goals and getting the IceCaps back on their heels. If Springfield sticks to Larsen’s structure and game plan, their speed and skill should be a hefty handful for the St. John’s defense.

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