WEST SPRINGFIELD - Generations of Springfield sports fans grew up reading Sam Pompei, whose name was synonymous with top-flight reporting on many topics, but especially the city's American Hockey League franchise.
One of the true legends of local sportswriting, and owner of a reputation that was known throughout North America, Pompei died Sunday morning. He was 92.
"He was a wonderful man who had a wonderful life,'' said Bruce Landon, president and general manager of the Springfield Falcons.
"He will be missed. He was a true historian of Springfield hockey.''
A lifelong West Springfield resident, Pompei retired in 1974 when cataracts began affecting his eyesight. His legacy has endured over subsequent decades, and he is a member of the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame.
At a time Springfield had separate morning and afternoon dailies, Pompei worked for the afternoon Daily News as well as the Sunday Republican. His 34-year career included 16 years as sports editor.
He covered a variety of topics, including baseball, when Pompei reported on the Red Sox during the Ted Williams era. He also staffed three World Series.
But Pompei's major influence was in hockey, where he covered the Springfield Indians and later the Kings, afer the franchise's name was changed for a time in the late 1960s.
Pompei was the beat reporter during the Indians' run of three straight Calder Cup championships from 1959-61. At a time the National Hockey League consisted of only six teams, Springfield was considered the seventh strongest pro team in the world.
Under the supervision of owner Eddie Shore - hockey legend in his own right - the 1959-61 Indians are widely viewed among the best minor league teams ever assembled.
Landon, a former Springfield goaltender, said Sunday that he he has a framed Pompei story in his own home in West Springfield.
"It was from my first pro game, on Opening Night in 1969,'' Landon said.
"I managed to get a shutout against Baltimore. When Sam wrote about it, he called me a 'plucky' goaltender.
"I didn't know what 'plucky' meant. I didn't save many newspaper articles but I saved that one.''
As much as Pompei's reputation was interwoven with Springfield hockey, he also covered one of the most famous games in the history of the NHL.
He was on hand In 1970, when the Boston Bruins defeated St. Louis 4-3 in overtime to clinch their first Stanley Cup since 1941. The winning goal was scored by Bobby Orr in overtime.
A photo of Orr, soaring in mid-air across the goal crease after scoring the goal, is widely considered the most memorable photo in the sport's history.
Pompei shared his March 5, 1918 birthday with Milt Schmidt, a surviving Hockey Hall of Fame member who was a player, coach and general manager of the Bruins.
The two developed a close friendship. Each year, they would call each other on their shared birthdays.
Pompei's career was made possible only after he survived a scary episode in World War II.
On Thanksgiving morning in 1943, he was serving on the destroyer USS Converse when a torpedo hit the ship's side.
The torpedo did not detonate. In a 2008 interview, Pompei said if the weapon had not been a dud, his chances of survival would have been 100-to-1.
He had begun career as a newspaper reporter at 15 in the 1930s. Working at the Eastern States Coliseum as one of the locally renowned "Rink Rats,'' he covered youth hockey games for 15 cents per inch of copy.
Pompei graduated from West Springfield High School in 1936. For the most part, his journalism savvy was self-taught, the result of hours research at the Springfield City Library.
Pompei also made the five-mile walk to Springfield College, where he practiced his writing by doing mock stories on college baseball and basketball. games.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Dec. 8, 1941, one day after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
He was honorably discharged as a gunner's mate, first class in 1946, then resumed his newspaper career.
After a year of freelance work, he was hired as a city reporter for the Daily News and Sunday Republican in 1947. He moved to sports a year later, and became sports editor in 1958.
Pompei was predeceased by his wife of 61 years, Marge. He is survived by a son and daughter, Pat and Sandy.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of Sunday.
Margaret K Curtis Pompei
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