NOTE: This is the weekly column of BlueJackets.com writer Rob Mixer. Follow Rob on Twitter by clicking here, and be sure to follow his regular updates on the CBJ Today blog.
I had no idea what to expect when I got to Springfield, Mass. last weekend.
Along with Jackets TV producer Will Maetzold, we pulled up to the MassMutual Center in a GMC Yukon that was decked out head-to-toe in Blue Jackets decor. There's nothing easy about parking the enormous beast with a 30-gallon tank, but nothing beats traveling in style, either.
The thoughts running through my head during a 12-hour trek on I-90 followed a common theme: what kind of Springfield Falcons team are we going to find when we get there?
We've covered the Falcons fairly intently since their training camp opened a few weeks ago and after the Blue Jackets assigned no fewer than 20 players to Brad Larsen's club, there was even more reason to pay close attention.
Roster battles were in motion at nearly every position on the ice and with only three preseason games, the guys on the bubble had little time to state their case for sticking around.
There was also that small detail of Larsen and his coaching staff getting the players up to speed on structure, systems and stylistic issues that need clarified before the puck drops. A lot to do in a small window, for sure, but as soon as we arrived you could feel the positive vibes all around the building.
I enjoyed the genuine sense of optimism from the Falcons players, coaches and staff. It's been a while since they qualified for the Calder Cup playoffs and they have a legitimate reason to believe that could change this year.
Every position on the ice has been upgraded - either via free agency, trade or assignment - and the players have bought in to the Larsen way of doing things.
Talking to the players was refreshing. Most of them had no idea (or still don't know) how long it has been since Springfield was in the postseason, and really, it doesn't matter to them. They are charged with getting the Falcons back to the playoffs starting now -- not six years ago.
And that's why I think they will get it done.
Call me crazy for making such a proclamation two games into the regular season, but there's just something about this group. I liked what Ryan Johansen said about the opening weekend: he didn't want to overstate two wins, but said two losses can really put a team back on its heels.
If they can get a little swagger going early on, what's the harm?
Above all else, the Falcons are fun to watch. They play fast, don't like to spend a lot of time in their own zone and challenge opponents to get on their level. It happened against a very good St. John's club on Saturday night, and was on full display after the IceCaps scored the opening goal.
Springfield scored the next three goals and made Curtis McElhinney's job pretty easy the rest of the way. They're deep up front and have three lines that can score; in fact, the Falcons got goals from all four lines over the weekend.
The defense always looks up ice and wants to make a swift first pass out of the zone, and the forwards are quick enough to make sure they're available for either a stretch pass or deflection into the offensive end.
Initial returns are very encouraging and it's hard not to be excited about this group. The old hockey adage is that you can't win a championship in October, and while true, I have a sneaking suspicion these guys will be playing late into the spring.
I may not have known what to expect when I got to Springfield, but I do now.