It’s about this time of year I often reminisce about the Whalers. The football season is over and sports fans start really concentrating on hockey and basketball. I went to plenty of games when the Whalers were here, and owned hats and other Whalers paraphernalia. I even had a Whalers Christmas ornament that Kara accidentally broke a few years ago. “Absolutely unforgiveable,” joked one of my friends.
But seriously I miss the Brass Bonanza, the crowd cheering in unison over a goal, the wave, the souvenirs, even Chuck’s Steak House. I miss being anywhere in the country and being able to open the sports page of the Los Angeles Times and find the word “Hartford” in print in the NHL standings, or watching Sports Center and hearing “Hartford” in the same sentence as the legendary Montreal Canadiens.
It’s been 11 years since the Whalers left, and while there is always talk about trying to restore major league sports to Hartford, recently it seems to be percolating a little more than normal. Check out these pictures of McKinnon’s Pub in downtown Hartford, which has jumped on the “Bring Back the Whalers” bandwagon. Owner Matt Corey knows having the NHL right around the corner would be great not only for his business, but his city and his state.
I’ve been criticized every time I mention the Whalers by people who say “we do have hockey in Hartford”: The Wolf Pack. That is true, and as entertaining as their games may be, it is minor league hockey, and with all due respect it just isn’t the same. A person who used to work for the Wolf Pack would often send me e-mails saying having the Pack is just as good as having the Whalers. I suggested having MSG bring the Rangers here for a night and send the Pack to Manhattan for a night and see if New Yorkers would see the teams as equals. Why is it because we are in Connecticut our sports expectations should be lower? We tasted major league sports for a quarter century, it’s tough to swallow something else.
It is not difficult to find people who crave the return of the Whalers. Whalers banners can still be seen from time to time waving from homes and restaurants. I still see Whalers hats and jackets and shirts. In fact, take a look at this picture I took at the UConn Syracuse game at Rentschler Field last fall.
He wasn’t the only wearing Whalers gear. Last month on a flight to Detroit I saw a guy proudly carrying a Whalers duffle bag. There are still very active Whalers fan clubs including on the increasingly popular Web site myspace.com. Check out the Whalers stuff for sale on Ebay. There cannot possibly be a person out there who can really believe deep down that losing the Whalers was a good thing.
So, about bringing them back. The developer of Hartford 21, one of downtown’s biggest landowners, would like to build a new arena to help attract an NHL team. There are mixed feelings on whether this can be done, who will pay for it, and whether the NHL would allow a team here. If you look at the attendance figures in other NHL cities, any reasonable person would come to the conclusion Hartford would be a good bet. The demographics are in favor of a team, not to mention the whole hockey fan thing. This is a hockey state. Look at how many high schools have hockey teams. Kids grow up playing it, on teams and on ponds. That’s not the case in Tampa, Raleigh and other NHL cities.
What do you think?