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Hartford Whalers fan fest brings back memories, raises questions

Aug 15, 2010, 4:17 PM EDT

ronfrancishfd-getty-bennett.jpgThere was a heaping dose of hockey nostalgia this weekend surrounding a team that hasn’t been in the NHL since 1997. For the fans of what once were the Hartford Whalers this weekend provided a time to come together to celebrate not just the past glory of the Whalers but also to praise one of their own for winning the Stanley Cup this year. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is a former Whalers defenseman.

It also provided the opportunity for the fans in Hartford to show that they want the NHL to make a miraculous return to the city and resurrect the Whale as Jeff Jacobs of The Hartford Courant shares.

“It’s a first step and as a first step, my God, I can’t get over how great it was,” Howard Baldwin said. “The joy in people’s faces, the joy of being involved in something like this, it was a chance for people to express themselves. And that expression just grew and grew.”

Baldwin had said he would consider 1,500 a good showing. Privately, he hoped for upward of 3,000. He got 4,700. This wasn’t a final election, but it was a primary, an early referendum on whether folks believed Baldwin ought to keep pushing to rebuild the hockey marketplace, to keep alive the dream to one day bring the NHL back.

Consider the message sent.

Even if 15,000 had shown up nobody was going to drive up to the Rent and hand-deliver an NHL franchise to Connecticut. That’s a long way off. So many obstacles remain. Yet if 200 folks showed, you may as well have counted out Hartford on the spot.

“You know me better than to think I would have quit,” Baldwin insisted, “but I would have gone home and sulked.”

Instead, Baldwin has to feel empowered to keep building, to keep moving ahead. The NHL has to wake up this morning and, at the very least, say, “This is no joke.”

If you’re not familiar with who Howard Baldwin is, he’s the former owner of the Hartford Whalers and his love of the franchise has not waned. Holding a convention for fans that managed to break out former Whalers stars like Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, Larry Pleau and Dana Murzyn shows that you mean business when paying respects to the team and to the fans. Whether it means you’re serious about trying to get the NHL back to Connecticut is another question entirely.

The nostalgia for the Whalers is palpable amongst fans everywhere. The logo is iconic, their hapless ways made them endearing and the only fans that ever seemed to hate the Whalers are Bruins fans. Take that for what you think it’s worth. Waxing poetic for the days of Pat Verbeek, Mike Liut, Ray Ferraro and Sylvain Turgeon makes it seem like the Whalers were a big time team. Even getting name-dropped in Kevin Smith’s movie “Mallrats” helps pile on the reflective love for the Whale. Make no mistake about it, I love the Whalers, their history and everything about them… But Hartford doesn’t deserve

Fact of the matter is, the Whalers were a mediocre team and the fans in Hartford had a hard time packing the place out game in and game out. We’d all love to see the Whalers come back somehow, someway but unless that somehow magically transforms Hartford back into a city worth having an NHL team, Hartford is going to have to be content with being one of the larger AHL markets.

(Photo: Getty Images)

  1. NYRFTW - Aug 15, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    Hartford is still better than PHO, ATL and the NYI markets!

  2. Max Williams - Aug 16, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    And Atlanta, PHEO, Nashville, Miami deserve NHL franchises?

  3. Black Irish 47 - Aug 16, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    With all due respect Mr. Yerdon…The Whalers consistently drew 11,000 fans per game when no one cared about them and when they were consisitently mis-managed for over a decade.
    When Karmanos the crook laid down the challenge to get 14,000 to 16,000 per game to consider not relocating the team…We packed the house! He still moved…. A backroom deal w/ the NHL, Govenor Roland, Jeremy Jacobs, Karmanos, MSG, NESN and Betteman….Shady! See what happened to Sports Channel New England after the Whalers moved…. ????
    Tell me one thing? Why would you break up regional rivalries for cities in Florida and Arizona? Why would you remove Canadian franchises and put teams in Tennesee or Nashville?
    Someone gets paid, that’s why.
    Betteman owed favors and picked the weakest franchises at the time of expansion, unfortunately Hartford was ripe for the picking.
    When the Whale won the Adams division in 1986. They were sold out every night…It proves the old theory… Put a winner on the ice and people will come…
    The loss of frachises such as Hartford, Winnepeg and Quebec is a true tradgedy in NHL history… All had strong followings, but were poorly managed. The fans ulitmately paid the price for incompetent management…..
    Oh and one more thing …. Brendan Shannahan, Keith Primeau and Paul Coffey blow!

  4. EJ - Aug 16, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    *Irish: Well said. Let’s not forget that former Gov. Wiecker is sitting on the board of directors for Compuware.
    Yerdon is another out of towner who believed the BS Bettman and Karmanos fed the world when the team moved- that’s apparent by the tone of his final paragraph. However, there are no actual facts or statistics mentioned…The whale in 97-98 averaged 13,700 per game in a building capacity of 14,500 *(andrewsstarspage.com), all this for a team who all but announced their departure and failed to make the playoffs. Over 11,000 *(whalernation.tv) of these tickets were season tickets, the highest total in the league.
    I invite Yerdon to come to Hartford in February for the hockey fest. Let’s see if he changes his mind.

  5. WPftw - Aug 17, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    If Baldwin gets his “Connecticut Whalers” and they start doing terrible yet again, he’ll just sell the team again like he did the first time.
    The only reason why the Whalers averaged that high in 97-98 was because everyone was trying to save the dying team from leaving, nothing more.

  6. Whalefan - Aug 19, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    @Irish: I agree with everything you said up until you buschucked Keith Primeau. Out of those three, he made the best of the hand that was dealt to him, and was pretty popular when the Whale was stolen by the pony-tailed coward.

  7. MadVlad - Aug 19, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    WPftw, by the way, is one of the 5 people on Earth that actually like crappy minor league hockey over the NHL, he’s about to lose his precious Wolf Pack to Howard Baldwin. For the record, the franchise was profitable, and winning, when Baldwin was forced to sell the team. Read that again, forced to, not wanted to. He was a managing partner, and when the money behind the magic decides to sell, the managing partner sells. He loves the market and has faith in it, unlike our Mr Yerdon here. Despite that, I appreciate the press he;s giving us, but I wish he’d fact check a little better. Please, also remember that Karmanos didn’t count any of the people in the luxury boxes toward the attendance since he didn’t make any money off them, so he was fudging numbers. Overall, an awesome showing by the Hartford fans for a team that had a nice 5 year run and was truly horrible the rest of the time. How are the Islanders doing these days with their storied history and 4 straight Stanley Cups? 9k a game, that’s how…

  8. Dave - Aug 21, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    You hit the nail on the head my friend! RIGHT ON!!!!!!

  9. tom l - Aug 22, 2010 at 7:45 PM

    Congratulation Hartford Whaler fans on a fine showing of support for your team and major league hockey. I’m now living in Dixie and can tell you first hand that hockey doesn’t play well down here. After the whalers left, I took a 5 yr. healing peroid away from the sport. I finally decided to become a Montreal fan. I attend at least one game per yr. at the Bell Center and a game in Atlanta or Nashville when the Habes are in town.Connecticut can easily support a nhl team with its wealth and sports savy. What’s needed is a change in the name from Hartford to Connecticut, a new facility and much better promotion in Fairfield co. The cities of Winnipeg &Qubec should also get one of these failing US franchises as they are great hokey towns.The NHL needs to get rid of Gary Betman,a man who doesn’t understand or respect this special sport and its fans.

  10. WPftw - Aug 25, 2010 at 6:03 PM

    Haha, since when were the Whalers a winning team? They won an Adams Division Title, woohoo. The WolfPack actually accomplished something and won the Calder Cup, and a few division and conference titles.

  11. tom l - Sep 1, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    Hey WPftw: What are you smoking? You minor league team finished 18th in the ahl. If the wolf pack is such a winner why only 4000 attendence? I guess CT. prefer steak over hamburger!!!M

  12. QuizGuy66 - Sep 3, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    BRING BACK THE WHALE!!!!!!!!!!
    Seriously, man – you said it yourself – everyone except the Bruins fans loved the Whale. They were like, everybody’s 2nd team. The old-school NHL ethic is about the embracing the little guy and the underdog and the Whale embodies that totally.
    -QG
    (NJ Devils Fan)

  13. Whalerlady - Sep 9, 2010 at 7:31 PM

    Take it from a lifelong Whalers season ticket holder and more… LET IT GO, PEOPLE. The memories are nice, agreed, but stop fooling yourselves. Karmanos was “rewarded” by the NHL with the Lester Pearson award the year after the move. I suggest/invite you to look up what the award is given for, and then draw your own conclusions. The NHL does not want a team there any more. Plain and simple.

  14. Whalerlady - Sep 9, 2010 at 7:34 PM

    Sidebar – this article with THIRTEEN comments (14 now) is one of the most commented articles on your website? Is anybody actually reading this stuff???

  15. Whalerlady - Sep 9, 2010 at 7:38 PM

    My most sincere & humble apologies – I stated the incorrect trophy name – it was supposed to read “Lester Patrick Award” – which is given for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. Hmmm…

  16. woof - Sep 10, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    They might have still been in hartford if they did not trade Ronny & Ulf, with them and Verbeek, Dineen, Burke, Cassels, Sanderson, they would have made it deep into the playoffs in the early 90’s. Pitt would have never won those cups without those two guys, so maybe it could have been Hartford’s Stanley Cups?

  17. BlackIrish 47 - Sep 10, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    QG…sorry…but I live in MA… The Bruins fans miss the Whalers more than anyone… Not only did they pound the Whale during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s on the way to numerous Adams Division titles…But these games were the definition of Rivalry…Maybe not as intense or historic as the Red Sox vs. Yankees, but just as passionate. Fans travelled for games. Boston fans would pack the Mall and in turn we posted quality attendance at the Garden (RIP)regardless of outcome…
    Not to mention the Adams division rivalries were the greatest. It was appointment television. If the Canadiens were playing the Bruins or the Nordiques were in Hartford you were glued to the box. Even Patrick division games were exciting, remember the Mike Bossy Islanders vs. the Rangers, Flyers or the Capitals. These teams mixed it up because they played each other so much. It was cheap travel for these teams, couple hours by bus maybe. They began to hate each other over time. Every night had a storyline. Edge of your seat entertainment.
    You make a great point though QG, Baldwin never wanted to leave Hartford, he was forced out. Subsequently, he arrived in Pittsburgh, antoher struggling market and turned that franchise around… by looting the Hartford Whalers. He made it his mission to sink Richard Gordon and his non-hockey associates. See Ivan Lendl or Roger Staubauch. Yes it’s true… These were board of director members advising Richard Gordon and the Whaler foront office.
    Baldwin has always had a vision for the city of Hartford and the state, because he loves it there…Remember he brought Mr Hockey Gordie Howe and Hockey legend Bobby Hull to town! The city let him down, his partners undermined him and dream for downtown Hartford was dead. Unfortunately CT and the City of Hartford are not unique. Like many states and cities in the country they are both suffering as well, from mismanagment,corruption, complacency and political deadlock. Mr Yerdon correctly points out that Hartford the city has a long way to go before the NHL returns, but one thing is for sure if Gary Betteman continues to rule the NHL…the Whalers are dead and gone…
    My sadness for the Whale being gone is only overshadowed for my sadness for the NHL being gone. Not only did the Whale die in the spring of 1998, but it was the final nail in the NHL as we knew it… Campbells conference gone, Whales conference gone, Winnipeg gone, Quebec gone, Hartford gone….Hockey as we knew it…gone!
    Thank you Gary!

  18. Whalerlady - Sep 13, 2010 at 6:09 PM

    The “Colonial Criminals” didn’t help things either – they just added more instability to a bad situation (Yes, I am still talking about you, Sisti family…).

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