SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield Thunderbirds are kicking off the season Saturday night and have some big plans to celebrate last season’s success.

In Court Square Saturday you could feel the excitement around this Thunderbirds season. You could tell by the sheer number of people in attendance and the energy they brought. Fans showed just how much this team means to the city and how much fun was had with that run to the Calder Cup Finals last season.

The block party began rocking at 4 p.m. Saturday complete with live music, team executives are the mayor…. All building to that Eastern Conference Championship Banner celebration inside the Thunderdome at 7:05 p.m. Saturday when they celebrate rising to the top class of the AHL.

The banner celebration is just six seasons removed from nearly losing professional hockey in western Massachusetts. 22News spoke with the Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa about what this feels like for the franchise.

“Last year’s run was so incredible, I think it’s gonna be something people in this market remember for a long time. So you know, we’re gonna celebrate that tonight. We’re gonna put something up on the rafters, and Eastern Conference Champions is something to be excited about,” said Costa. “I know our fans are excited, our players are looking forward to it. Hopefully we start off on the right foot, and you know, start our quest for another Calder Cup tonight.”

Puck drops immediately following the banner celebration, with the Bridgeport Islanders coming to town.

The Thunderbirds will be motivated Saturday night. They had their number last year, as long as it didn’t go to overtime. Ten wins with just one loss in regulation. Two loses when it went to bonus hockey.

Now, the T-Birds haven’t been sharp through the pre-season, losing a pair of games last weekend against the Providence Bruins. They return with a huge amount of talent and experience from last year’s run, 17 players in action Saturday night were on the roster last year, and 12 saw game action in the Calder Cup Finals.

Despite a huge outpouring of support for the Springfield Thunderbirds during their home opener, the T-Birds just couldn’t get ahead of the Bridgeport Islanders this weekend.

The Islanders took an early lead and despite some push-back from Springfield in the second period, the final score was 3-2 for Bridgeport.