Tonight the minor league hockey world will have its eyes focused on Springfield, Massachusetts, as the Springfield Thunderbirds host the Chicago Wolves for Game 3 of the Calder Cup Final. 31 years have passed since Springfield last commanded the playoff spotlight and hosted a Final. On that night- May 24, 1991 – the Springfield Indians defeated the Rochester Americans in Game 6 to capture their second of back-to-back championships.
And carrying the Calder Cup around the ice at Springfield Civic Center was a 25-year-old Manny Viveiros.
“We won in the second year of back-to-back years that Springfield had won. In that second year, they were part of the Hartford Whalers organization. That’s who I was a member of,” recalled Viveiros, who will start his third season as Silver Knights head coach this fall. “We had Jimmy Roberts as our coach, and he coached both teams in those back-to-back Calder Cups. For that city to have gone this long without getting back to a final is quite surprising.”
The 1990-91 Springfield Indians finished with the second-best record in the AHL at 43-27-10. Their playoff path included a seven-game series win over the Fredericton Canadiens and a five-game victory over the Moncton Hawks before meeting the Rochester Americans in the Final for the second straight year. The Amerks took each of the first two games before the Indians rattled off four straight wins, capped by a 5-3 victory in Game 6.
“Looking back, we were such a young team. I think I was one of the older players at 25 years old, and we played a Rochester team that was much more of a veteran team,” said Viveiros. “But I look back and think, and we were a pretty smart hockey team in how we approached things and how we dictated play, and then we had the talent to back it up. That was a special group.”
It is not all that surprising that one would remember that team as ‘cerebral’. The 1991 Springfield blue line alone would prove to produce a bevy of coaching talent. In addition to Viveiros, that roster boasted future NHL head coaches Todd Richards and John Stevens, as well as an NHL general manager in Marc Bergevin. Forward Mark Greig has been scouting for the Philadelphia Flyers since 2007.
Even today as a head coach, Viveiros can reflect on that roster and remember how important it is to have players in his locker room who have the personalities and mindsets that show coaching potential.
“That makes our job so much easier, when you have players that are not only skilled and talented but are also students of the game,” said Viveiros. “When you look at our team last year, you think about a guy like Jake Leschyshyn. He’s a very cerebral player who knows the system, has good ideas and is well prepared. It helps him with his career and his chance of playing for the Golden Knights next year. But from the coaching side, it lessens the burdens of coaching when these players can teach each other and monitor each other.”
Viveiros’ memories of winning in Springfield only further fuel his fire to win in Henderson, for the sake of the fans and for the players.
“I still remember the Springfield Civic Center, and I think it held close to 8,000 fans. You couldn’t get a ticket at all. Looking back at how special that was and how that city rallied around our team at that time, it’s something that you can foresee happening in Henderson in the future. I can’t wait for next season and our chance to host a big playoff game in our building.
“It doesn’t matter what league you play in. If you win a championship at the end of the season, that means you’ve won your last game of the year. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the NHL, AHL, college, or major junior. It’s something you never forget for the rest of your life,” said Viveiros. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to win a Calder Cup, a Memorial Cup, a WHL championship as coach, and I’ve won several times over in Europe as both a player and a coach. Each one is special and something you just never forget. When our players have that opportunity one day, it’s going to do so much for their development and confidence.”
Viveiros still has some of his Springfield Indians apparel tucked away at home, and a Calder Cup Championship ring that he plans to pass on to his children and, one day, grandchildren.
And while he hopes and expects that he and the Silver Knights will someday soon get to party like it’s 1991, there is one fond memory of his Calder Cup celebrations that cannot be replicated.
“At that time in the Hartford Whalers organization, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr were consultants with the Whalers,” recalled Viveiros. “After we won Game 6, these guys came into our home dressing room and drank beers and smoked cigars with us until 3 o’clock in the morning. What a highlight for me, that two of the greatest players to ever play the game came in to make sure we knew how special it was winning a Calder Cup.”
“Boy, do I wish we had social media back then for that!”