For myself as a fan of the Hartford Whalers there was no worse experience as a sports fan than having your team ripped from you and relocated by a carpet bagger and a commissioner who reminds me of Count Chocula. I though I had experienced sports lows but I was wrong. The Red Sox World Series losses in 1975 and 1986, the near miss in 1978, the Patriots getting crushed by the Bears 46-10 and the Game 7 OT playoff loss at Montreal were probably the low lights of 100’s of losses suffered by my teams over the years. Then the Whalers packed up and moved.
I refuse to rehash ancient history because well it makes my blood boil thinking about what Ponytail Pete did and what the crooked governor failed to do. What I want to do is look forward if Winnipeg can get the Jets back why can’t Hartford get the Whalers?
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done too much for just one person or even a small group. As Whalers fans, hockey fans that long for the return of the Whalers and Brass Bonanza we need to band together and each try to do something and pitch in and help along the way.
There are a lot of obstacles in the way, let’s be honest it’s truly an uphill battle. First off, I am of the belief the Commissioner Bettman does not want the NHL in Hartford. So we need to change the commissioner. This guy wore out his welcome two lockouts ago and he needs to go, and go now. Maybe he can get a ride with Bud Selig to where ever he is going off to. We need a commissioner who loves the sport, loves the fans and is a fan at heart of one of the most exciting games played. I’m not sure who that is but there are people way more knowledgeable than I am who do.
Second there needs to be a new arena built but it’s a catch-22 situation because who wants to build an arena without a team? Enter the University of Connecticut who is now playing Division I big boy NCAA hockey and using the XL Center, the Whalers former home as their Hockey East home. Granted they tarp off seats and have cut the attendance maximum to around 7,500 but still look at the attendance figures so far. In addition the national champion UConn basketball teams play a portion of their schedule at the XL Center every year and have so for quite a long time. There has recently been a call for UConn to play more of its games there but better facilities are needed. Granted there have been upgrades to the arena and locker rooms but it’s still a 40-year old facility.
I believe with the help and voice of the University, it’s athletic boosters and former student-athletes, the Hartford corporate community, local businesses and state and local government leaders something can be done to rectify the arena situation. People need to work together, the public and the private entities should share a common goal of not only building an arena and bringing the NHL back to Hartford but to help the community prosper and be vibrant.
A new arena creates jobs and pushes money into a community. It just wouldn’t be UConn athletics and the Whalers, the NCAA will use the arena for tournaments, and there will be concerts, the circus and other events. A new arena will put a shine on Hartford once again and be able to work hand in hand with the Convention Center nearby.
Then the third issue is actually getting a team through either NHL expansion or relocation. As a fan who lost their team I’d rather see the new Whalers come in through expansion I am not sure how I would feel about taking someone else team from them after ours was taken from us.
In order to get this done it needs to bigger than the current grass roots efforts, there needs to be more done than the booster club bringing in former players for an event or alumni game. Or 60 fans going to see the Islanders play, newspaper articles that don’t tell us anything more than what we already know and government leadership that says they want a team back in the city but don’t really do much to try to make it happen. I am not minimizing these efforts but let’s face it, the longer we go without a true effort to bring the Whalers back to Hartford the farther we are from it ever getting a chance to happen.
We need voices, powerful voices of people who carry weight in government, the private sector, the media and the NHL. We need former Whalers players, former professional players who were developed in Connecticut youth hockey programs, a former owner who can possibly provide guidance and NHL and corporate connections coupled with a serious prospective owner to come help us fight and show everyone Hartford and the region want this. We need the carriers of the Whalers torch to step forward, people who will bring instant credibility to the effort. Men such as Dennis House, Gerry Brooks and Jeff Jacobs can help be this collective voice of the fan. They are now but the voice needs the help of the jilted fan to be more powerful, forceful. When someone asks how badly we want our team back there should be a loud resounding roar of a Lion King not a meow of a young kitten.
It starts with grass roots and there is a small grass roots effort there but I am afraid it has just not been enough. It needs to bigger, louder and to some extent pissed off about being jerked around. If we as Whalers fans refuse to stand up and be heard no one else will do it for us. Do something, anything. Be heard. Be loud; be proud for the Whalers sake.
Winnipeg did it. Why not us?