Keeping Score with Chip Ainsworth: Greenfield's Heather Ahearn hoists the Stanley Cup with the Florida Panthers

Published: 06-28-2024 2:54 PM

Good morning!
There isn’t a sport on this green earth that celebrates winning a title the way hockey does. A good example of that happened at the Elbo Room the morning after Florida won the Stanley Cup. Designated wild and crazy guy Matthew Tkachuk stood on the balcony and poured beer out of hockey’s sacred chalice into the willing mouths of waiting Panthers fans on the street below.

The Sun Sentinel’s Ben Crandell reported the scene, together with CEO Bryce Hollweg’s description of hanging onto a 2-1 lead against the desperate Oilers. “I could barely watch,” he said. “I was literally kneeling on the floor on one knee, just waiting for it to end.”

In the winning locker room, Ryan Lomberg emptied champagne over Heather Ahearn’s head and the moment was captured on camera. “Sounds like my mom sent you a picture,” she texted, referencing her proud mother Sally Ahearn. “Please DO NOT use if there was any inkling of doing so.”

We won’t run it, but it’s a great photo of the jubilant Greenfield native in the locker room surrounded by Tkachuk and Lomberg and triumphantly holding the 35-pound trophy over her head. 

Ahearn is executive assistant to GM Bill Zito, a pretty good job for a kid who grew up on Ferrante Avenue and graduated from GHS. At UMass she majored in sport management, and subsequently earned an MBA at Babson College in Wellesley.

She thrived for more than two decades in corporate America, but needed a change. She saw an ad for the Panthers job and applied online. Hockey was nothing new to her. She’d public skated at the Greenfield rink, played women’s club hockey at UMass and worked for the U.S. Women’s National Team after college.

Zito met with her a year ago Christmas time while the Panthers were in Boston, and she made a good impression. “I need you to start right now,” he told her.

“I didn’t use any hockey connections,” she said in this space a year ago. “It was just meant to be.”

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On Wednesday she left Fort Lauderdale for the NHL Draft in Las Vegas, the same place where the Panthers lost last year’s final in five games.

It was time to get back to business, but for 24 hours she was able to enjoy the fruit of the franchise’s effort. “It’s been something,” she texted with a smiley face, and in three months it all starts anew.


The best thoroughbred racing in the world starts next month at Saratoga Race Course. Admission has been jacked from $7 to $10 because that’s what NYRA does.

The 40-day summer meet starts July 11 and will continue every Wednesday through Sunday until Labor Day, Sept. 2. The first of four giveaway days is July 19, when the track will hand out a free Saratoga drink tumbler with each paid admission.

It will give out Saratoga baseball jerseys on Aug. 2, trucker hats on August 16, and windbreakers on Sept. 1.

If you live in Greenfield, take Route 2 to Albany and the N.Y. Thruway. The quickest route from South County is I-91 to the Mass. Pike to the Thruway, and North County residents can take I-91 up to Brattleboro onto Rte. 9 through Wilmington and Bennington to Albany and the Thruway.


Bernardston’s Lou Bordeaux hopes to have a big turnout for Hockeyday at the Big E on Aug. 3.  “We had almost 400 last year and 26 players and executives,” said Bordeaux, whose Springfield Hockey Heritage Society celebrates an era when Eddie Shore’s Springfield Indians skated onto the ice to the strains of Bill Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

Bordeaux added he hoped to get Bruce Boudreau back in town. Boudreau played two seasons with the Indians (1987-89) and has coached over 1,000 NHL games.

Tickets are $15 for members and $18 for non-members. Call 413-650-7447 for more info.


Mike Cadran reports that four of 28 MIAA titles that were up for grabs this spring were won by WMass teams. Turners Falls won the D-5 softball tournament, Westfield won the D-2 boys volleyball title and Longmeadow won D-2 titles in boys lacrosse and girls tennis.

Only three teams statewide went undefeated: Longmeadow girls tennis (23-0), St. John’s boys tennis (21-0), and the Taunton softball team (25-0).

Turners Falls softball has the all-time lead with 11 state titles, followed by Taunton with nine. Incidentally, Taunton southpaw Samantha Lincoln has committed to pitch for Texas Tech.


It must have been sweet revenge for Alex Verdugo to hit a home run his first at-bat back in Boston where manager Alex Cora regarded him as Ver-doggo. 

Years ago the Yankees sent slugger Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps because manager Lou Piniella claimed Buhner “had a hitch in his swing.”

After Buhner homered in his first game against the Yankees, he ran around the bases yelling, “How’s that for a (bleeping) hitch!”

Buhner hit 307 home runs for the Mariners while Phelps was eventually traded by the Yankees to Oakland for a career minor leaguer named Scott Holcomb.


SQUIBBERS: Happy anniversary to Merritt and Nancy Billings of the Wapping section of Deerfield who were wed 74 years ago tomorrow. … Jeff Kent looked like he’d just jumped off the International Harvester watching his son Kaeden bat .385 for Texas A&M at the College World Series. … Sean McDonough and Ray Ferraro did a terrific job calling the Stanley Cup for ESPN. Ferraro, who was drafted by Hartford the year after he scored 108 goals for the Brandon Wheat Kings, is married to U.S. hockey women’s star Cammi Granato. … Thanks to Tom Echeverria for pointing out that Springfield College was ranked 78th in the Director’s Cup standings of D-III schools. We missed that one in last week’s rundown. … Dizzy Dean called Satchel Paige the best pitcher he’d ever seen in Hulu’s documentary “The League” about the Negro Baseball League. “If you can get him and me on the same team, we’re gonna win the pennant by the Fourth of July and go fishin’ till the World Series starts,” said Dean. … Sorry, but I can’t stand the pitch clock and how it’s taken the game from its normal flow to where there’s an ad every three minutes. … Same goes for the neutral zone trap in hockey, which has turned an exciting sport into a boring game of keep-away. … You’ll need to wager $250 to win $10 that the U.S. wins the most medals at the upcoming Summer Olympics. …. Gotta love the way betting sites lure suckers with come-ons that promise winning wagers thanks to “predictive betting models” … Phillies radio voice Scott Franzke used a nice turn of phrase when he said pitcher Aaron Nola “will depart with property on first and third.” … Happy Birthday, America. It’s time to regroup and reload, but God willing I’ll be back in August if the creek don’t rise.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at