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Tag:Hartford Whalers
Posted on: May 27, 2011 8:06 am
 

3rd Annual Bring Back The Whalers Entry

You thought that I had forgotten. You hoped that my nightmarish reminders had stopped.

You were wrong.

For the third straight year, it’s time to strike of the Brass Bonanza, get Pucky in the lead car of a parade and march from Hartford to NHL headquarters in NYC. The 3rd Annual Bring Back the Whalers Entry is here (although slightly later than my previous two entries in 2009 and 2010).

There are several reasons for my lateness. First, there have been major developments in the NHL relocation front. Mainly, the first of what I think are many relocations started with the Atlanta Thrashers being sold and moving to Winnipeg. The NY Islanders and Nassau County are having a budget vote on August 1st to determine whether or not a new arena complex will be built. The city of Glendale, AZ agreed to pay $25 million to keep the Coyotes in Arizona. Sadly, no news on the Florida Panthers…yet.

Meanwhile, in Hartford, there has been a stunning turn of events. Former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin purchased the marketing rights for the NY Rangers AHL affiliate Hartford Wolfpack and rebranded them mid-season into the Connecticut Whale. Before the change, the Wolfpack’s record was a meager 6W-11L-5OT, good for an awful 17 points in 22 games. After the change, the team went 34-21-3, and only dropped one point (SOL @ Worchester) in their first nine games. The finished 40-32-8 with 88 points, good for third place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division and a spot in the playoffs. Though they lost in the first round to the Atlantic Division champs Portland in six games, it was an incredible rebirth for Hartford Hockey.

There was the epic Hockey Fest at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, where myself and thousands of other brave souls watched (for as long as we could anyway...details here) the Connecticut Whale take on the Providence Bruins outdoors in wind-chill aided freezing conditions. Over 13,000 people showed up at the XL Center to watch the first Whale game on November 27, 2010, a 3-2 shootout win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, which by the way is higher than the average attendance for the Islanders and Coyotes and just behind the relocated Thrashers. It’s also the same arena (known to many still as the Hartford Civic Center) that one Peter F. Karmanos fled because he thought it was too old and he couldn’t sell it out. Also, after rebranding the team, the Whale averaged 6,540 fans per game (possibly including the 21,000-plus for the outdoor game. That number would be good for 7th in the AHL, but the Whale/Wolfpack averaged 5,695 combined for the season, 12th in the AHL.

There have been rumors that talks between the NHL, Hartford and Baldwin are happening, although Baldwin has stated that Hartford isn’t ready for an NHL team again, and he probably knows best. There are more rumors that a new arena is being planned near Rentschler Field in East Hartford and it would likely also host UConn Basketball much like the XL/Civic Center does currently. But these conversations probably happen all the time, and until Gary F. Bettman decides he wants to listen, it really doesn’t matter. But all of this is meaningless unless Baldwin’s master plan comes together and unites the fragmented Connecticut hockey fan bases and turns the Whale into an AHL powerhouse.

And for starters, this past season wasn’t too bad. The Whale made the playoffs again, after missing them for the first and only time in Hartford in the previous season. Also for the second consecutive year, the NHL Rangers were forced to make numerous call-ups and roster moves due to injury and giving the Whale an ever-changing roster of attacking and defensive lines. And still an invigorated crowd came in a supported a team merely because of the logo on the front of the jersey and for what it represents.

It represents a fan base long forgotten in the NHL. It represents the greatest theme/goal song in NHL history. It represents the greatest (and probably ONLY!) divisional title parade in sports history. It represents a sports fan base that is so diverse, it can be united only under rare circumstances (i.e. – UConn Huskies and the Whalers. That’s the list, and even that’s debatable). But most of all, it represents the spirit of a small state and city that stood toe-to-toe with its larger neighbors of New York and Boston for two decades. A spirit that embodies an area that never craved big-time players, or major success, just a chance to prove to the rest of the country that the little guy can win it too.

Just look at the rest of the major sports in America. New Orleans and Green Bay are the two most recent Super Bowl champions. The San Antonio Spurs won four NBA titles from 1999-2007. The Tampa Bay Rays have won the AL East two of the last three years with a payroll that is a fraction of the two highest payroll teams in MLB and the AL East, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers won a combined nine Stanley Cups in eleven years from 1980-1990 in two of the smallest markets in the NHL.

Yet Gary Bettman kept thinking that having NHL teams in major sports cities would work. It failed in Atlanta, twice. It might be failing in Pheonix and Miami. And perhaps now, with Winnipeg getting a franchise, perhaps Bettman is beginning to realize that the best way to support hockey is not with thirty franchises of big-wig corporate types, but with solid, die-hard and blue collar fan bases in smaller cities that continuously sell out arenas. This is potentially great news for Quebec, Hamilton and Hartford, three cities that along with Winnipeg were potential small markets looking for NHL teams.

Now, we’ve seen mid-markets like Colorado and Minnesota regain their franchises after losing them to relocation to New Jersey and Dallas respectfully. And with Winnipeg leading the way, perhaps now the little guys will return en force to the NHL. Where Edmonton, a city with a population slightly under 750,000 is talked about in the same breath as Montreal (1.6 mil pop) and Toronto (2.5 mil pop). Where Detroit (pop. 714,000) is Hockey Town USA and there’s not a thing that New York (8.2 mil pop), Chicago (2.7 mil pop) or Philadelphia (1.5 mil pop) can do about it.

And now, fourteen years ago the Whalers left Hartford, CT. And in those fourteen years perhaps some bits of knowledge and wisdom have reached Gary F. Bettman’s thick, stubborn skull, though I remain pessimistic to that idea. But perhaps, in the years to come, maybe Howard Baldwin will prove that Hartford will once again be known as a city with an NHL franchise. That maybe the all the little guy needs in life is another chance to prove to the world what it can do. And maybe, a city of 125,000 in a state of 3.5 million will once again have a major sports franchise to call home.

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 20, 2011 9:58 am
 

Whale Bowl Chilling Reminder of CT Hockey History

Somewhere, and by somewhere, I really mean Connecticut, there will be stories about how the weather ruined the highlight of 2011 “Whale Bowl” at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT, last night. Yes, Providence, RI will have a recap of the AHL Bruins 5-4 shootout win and Syracuse newspapers will scoff at the notion that Hartford now has the AHL single game attendance record. And my estimates of about 15,000 actual people in seats during the first period are probably well short of the 22,000 or so announced attendance (21,673 according to the Hartford Courant – I’m announcing that I’m going pro in attendance numbers).

But none of that really matters.

What matters is that the Connecticut Whale, the New York Rangers AHL affiliate, formerly the Hartford Wolfpack, played in front of an audience of true hockey fans and Whaler diehards. There were lots of old time Whalers jerseys among a sea of fans also sporting new Whale gear, along with Rangers, Wolfpack, college, high school and youth jerseys that capped off what should be remembered as a celebration of all things hockey in Connecticut, not just a super-hyped up AHL game.

What should be remembered are the free skates, youth and high school games and college games that even featured a UConn Men’s and Women’s double-header for hockey (and not basketball, weird I know). What will be remembered is the 30 mph wind that forced out most of the fans after the second period, forced the referees to keep switching the goals so the goalies wouldn’t be facing the wind for a whole period and caused the deciding shootout to happen at only one net. I don’t know how many were left to see the Whale give up a late third period goal and lose in the shootout. But it really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that 15,234 people (scanned tickets according to Hartford Courant, though over 28,000 tickets were sold) braved a zero degree wind chill to watch an AHL game. That exact number is currently higher than 8 NHL teams average attendance for home games this season and one behind the Florida Panthers. Let me put it in simpler terms: Over 15,000 people just watched a minor league hockey game, with players affiliated with a franchise they hate (NY Rangers), playing the only franchise they probably hate more(Boston/Providence Bruins), in a zero degree wind chill at a football stadium that one month ago had two feet of snow in it.

And yet somehow this city and fan base has been without an NHL team for almost a decade and a half.

Someone is going to be dumb enough to write that almost half of those tickets didn’t show up. But that someone is probably a journalist sitting in press row, which I bet is heated, and his car is parked in a special lot right next to the stadium instead of halfway across a lot that cost fifteen bucks to park in (I’m furious about that by the way, an investigation is looming…). So as far as I’m concerned, anyone who writes or comments about that can shove it where the sun don’t shine. Because I’m willing to be that you wouldn’t sit outside in freezing temperature to watch a minor league game in any sport.

But in Hartford, hockey is scared. Be it the  old time 86-87 Adams Division Champion Hartford Whalers (a banner that still hangs in the Hartford Civic Center, now the XL Center) or the current AHL Connecticut Whale, there will always be a fan base for hockey in a city probably known only as the halfway point between Boston and New York. Gary F. Bettman’s name is always uttered with several curses and Peter Karmanos’ couldn’t get the time of day in this state. And the odds of that ever changing in my lifetime are slim. Our beliefs and grudges run deep in this state, and while Connecticut might be divided on just about everything else, baseball, football, etc., there is only one hockey team.

So why was I foolish enough to brave the winds and be among those 15,000? Because I believe, stubbornly or foolishly that the Whalers will return to the NHL. For the same reasons that I never gave up being a Philadelphia Eagles or Atlanta Braves fan when I moved to Connecticut. The Whalers were my first hockey team and they will be my last hockey team. Sure following the Rangers, Icelanders and Devils is nice and it puts noise on in the background on most nights, but my love of hockey will never exceed my love for Pucky the Whale and Hartford, CT. And I’m not alone in that reasoning either.

On the way out of The Rent I overheard several Bruins fans talking. Most of them saying the exact same thing: “I can’t believe that many people showed up for a minor league game with this weather.” “Remind me again why there are two hockey teams in Florida, ‘cause there should be one here.”

I also saw an older man wearing a Packers jacket and quipped, “You know it’s cold it the Packers fan is leaving.” He responded, “If it was the Pack, I’d have stayed.” A man behind me said, “If those were the Whalers, there’d still be 40,000 people in there.”

I thought about that for a second. I thought about the difference between the Whalers and the CT Whale is truly in name and importance only. Because there is one thing that will always be the same in Hartford.

 When the red light comes on behind the visitors net, the Brass Bonanza will play, and the first goal of the game, by the Whale in the first period, will remain one of the best sports memories of my life for a long time. The fans, no matter the weather, players, owner, arena, night, day, first game, last game, playoffs, anything, those fans will cheer and dance and celebrate so long as that song is being played.

After all, this is the city that threw a parade for a divisional title, which many people and players say was better than parades that were thrown for Stanley Cup champions. Hartford doesn’t need a reason to celebrate when it comes to hockey. It just needs a little red light and a song.

Posted on: May 15, 2010 11:11 am
 

Game 7 - PHI vs. BOS - The Broken Spirit

Last night I made an executive decision. I was planting my butt in front of the television to watch Game 7 between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins. Because if I couldn’t get excited for this game, I probably won’t be getting excited for anything else NHL related in the near future.

And again, I don’t hate hockey. I love hockey. I just hate two people, one of which runs the whole sport.

So here’s how the night went: To avoid remote ADD, I attempt to get a few of my friends over to our local watering hole (drink responsibly, designate a driver, etc.) and sports bar. My hope was to have my buddy Zach (huge hockey fan) to keep me interested and watching the whole 60 minutes of the hockey game in between taking shots at his Mets.

Naturally, that fell through and I was left with my basement and my remote control, which naturally means I won’t be watching all 60 minutes. I would be flipping through the Yankees and Mets game because I always have ADD when it comes to me and a remote control and sports. Even with that, I got to watch a pretty good hockey game.

Boston was all over Philly in the first period, taking a 3-1 lead. Then the Bruins forgot to bring their skates in the second and let Philly back into the game, and we went into the third tied 3-3. I told my dad that the first team to screw up, loses. That team ended up being Boston, who took a bench minor for too many men on the ice and Philly scored on the ensuing power play. Typical Flyer goal too, get players to the front of the net and start throwing the puck at goal.

Even with Philadelphia coming back from three games to zero and three goals to zero in Game Seven, I’m sorry, I tried, but I couldn’t get myself interested in the game. I couldn’t get excited to actually watch playoff hockey. Even during the last ten minutes my dad and I found time to watch Ron F. Gardenhire bring in a reliever to pitch to Alex Rodriguez, that A-Rod is 4-6 against lifetime with 3 HRs (now it’s 5-7 with 4 HRs). This coming from a fan who watched two games (and an OT) of USA-Canada in the Olympics just a few months ago. I’m sorry NHL fans, but some wounds just run to deep.

But regardless of my personal feelings, congratulations to the Philadelphia Flyers on winning this series. Once again, they personify the city of Philadelphia with their mentality and drive and never gave up even facing seemingly insurmountable odds and losing another goalie. The Adams Upset Conf. will now feature the two lowest seeds (Philly/Montreal) in the final. Love it. Won’t watch it most likely, but I love it.


I’d like to thank the great people and fans of Whaler Nation on Facebook for their comments, compliments and feedback. Numerous people that I have never met on Facebook responsed with suprising force, with "likes" and comments that let me know I'm not alone in my conviction. I’d also like to take a moment to reflect on the two user comments from my Whalers entry last week. Both comments happen to be about both of those two gentlemen I mentioned earlier.

User KevinKuzia takes his shot at one Peter F. Karmanos and wonders why despite the Whalers being a national recognizable team, they moved away from Hartford. User whaler97 sees the effort that Commissioner Bettman is putting into saving teams like Phoenix and wonders where he was 13 years ago in Hartford.

Guys, thanks for the comments. First, we know that Karmanos had no intention of staying in Hartford from the get go, and competing with the UConn Huskies basketball teams is quite possibly the lamest excuse ever said. As I state in the entry, everyone wants to know where I bought my lone Whalers t-shirt and not one person has ever defended the Whalers leaving. Bettman clearly wants to keep his league in major cities with established sports teams, despite getting killing and hemorrhaging money in Phoenix, Atlanta and Florida. Apparently being in big markets and TV money is more important to the league than drawing sellouts in middle markets like Hartford. But if the NHL could actually get real TV money, they wouldn’t be on Versus.

But the real catastrophe here is the average sports fan like me. The average fan that likes the sport and gets priced out at the ticket window or just doesn’t want to or have time to watch the sport live. I’ve interned at an arena with an ECHL team and have an AHL team in my backyard. I have enough hockey around me to watch if I feel motivated to do so. And right now I don’t. And I realized this sometime in the second period last night, right after the Flyers came back and tied the game at three. I realized that I will never have the motivation to watch this sport (aside from USA Olympic Hockey every four years) until my hockey team is rightfully returned to its place in Hartford, Connecticut.

So here lies my NHL spirit. It was officially pronounced dead around 8:45 PM EST on Friday, May 14, 2010. And I have a feeling that it might never come back. I have a feeling that I might never have the joy that Minnesotans have right now with the Wild. About getting your team back after losing it to a “bigger” market for over a decade. But Minnesota has the Vikings, and the Twins and the Timberwolves. They survived without the Northstars when they moved to Dallas.

Hartford had the Whalers. Connecticut had a professional sports team. And now after 13 years, I have given up on trying to accept the NHL without the Whalers. It’s not happening Bettman. When Chris Drury (Trumbull, CT – 1989 LLWS Champion) retires, my care quotient for the NHL will be at zero. You’ve finally broken my spirit to care about the National Hockey Leauge.

But if you think for one second that you’ve killed my hope of the Whalers returning to Hartford, you are sadly mistaken. But take heart at least this one statement Mr. Bettman, crusher of deams and souls.

I have watched 3 times more NHL this playoffs (45 minutes) than NBA playoffs (15 minutes). Now I have a purpose to actually watch the NBA Conference Finals - a purpose to watch more NBA than NHL during the playoffs.

A purpose to spite you.

 

Posted on: May 7, 2010 8:55 am
 

2nd Annual Bring Back The Whalers Entry

I hear the NHL Playoffs have been going on for the past few weeks. My college roommate, a Flyers fan, sent me a disparaging text message while driving through Connecticut to see his beloved Flyers get pounded in Boston by Tuukka Rask and the Bruins. Alex Ovechkin choked again. The Eastern Conf. has been renamed the Upset Conf. and the West has been renamed the Chalk Conf. for obvious reasons.

Guess what, I don’t care.

One of my co-workers at work, a local independent baseball team, has a Ray Borque jersey hanging in his office. I reminded him that there is no NHL hockey in Connecticut in the spring, but I let the jersey go since it is the great Ray Bourque. Another co-worker, formally from New Jersey, complained that her Devils (and MAAAAAAAAAAARTY!) were sucking it up against the Flyers in Round 1.

And I still don’t care.

Do you know when I cared?

When a fan/customer showed up to one of our games wearing a Whalers hat. I said to my Jersey co-worker, “See that hat? That’s why there is no hockey in Connecticut this time of year.” She immediately understood and stopped complaining at her Swiss (cheese) goalie. Because her team actually exists. And for one state, one fan base there still lies a faint glimmer of hope. A small chance that eventually, the mighty Hartford Whalers will return.

Last year (almost a year ago to the day) I focused on the numerous NHL teams that should be relocated and why Hartford wasn’t being mentioned as a possible/potential city for a team. The San Francisco/Bay area was explored, as was Kansas City and of course, Canada, but why not pick a city with an established fan base that is willing to build a new arena. Since the trademark for the Whalers logo has expired, I have purchased one t-shirt and gotten compliments on it in 4 different states (CT, NY, NJ, MA) from Bruins, Isles, Devils, Bruins and Flyers fans, who understand the pain that associates with this time of year.

People say that I should get over this silly notion that is my hockey team. That I should just embrace the Rangers and my boy, Chris Drury, and be done with it. I say, should the city of Seattle embrace the Portland Trailblazers? Should Los Angeles embrace the 49ers or Raiders? People say that’s different? Why? Why is Hartford, CT different than any of those cities? Why would Seattle and the state of Washington even care about the NBA playoffs right now? They shouldn’t. I wouldn’t even advertise during the playoffs if I was from the area. Heck, I'd love to see if anyone is watching the NHL playoffs in Connecticut or the USA. Would give this entry some meaning too.

Let’s review exactly what has happened since the Whalers left Hartford. The NHL had a lockout. Ticket prices are up. The Team-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named hoisted a Stanley Cup.  And any team in the greater Northeast (Rangers, Isles, Bruins) haven’t exactly been relevant. This also doesn’t instill any confidence in the commissioner, Mr. Gary Bettman, who has been in “communication” with Hartford, Conn. and the local and state politicians to gauge the NHL’s interest in a return to Hartford. Needless to say, talks aren’t going well.

Aside from SportsCenter, I have seen exactly 5 minutes of NHL playoff hockey. This is slightly higher than the 15 minutes of NBA action I’ve watched, but that’s another story. And it’s not because I wasn’t interested in the NHL Playoffs. Any series the Flyers have been in should have been good, except Marty Broduer sucked and Rask has been god-like in Round 2. I might have watched a Pittsburgh-Washington series just to see how much suckage Cindy F. Crosby and Alex Ovechkin could put together, but Ovie used all his in the first round. And I’d watch any game with Vancouver to see Roberto Luongo and comment that the Canucks’ jerseys look like the Whalers.

But even with these basic interests for a great sport, I’m not watching it in April. Or May. Or however long it takes to decide who hoists Lord Stanley’s Cup. You can call it a protest, you can call it stupid. I don’t care what you think. What I do know, is that for the past 13 years, one state has been without its only top-level professional sports team (no, the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun is not top-level). The public movement to bring back the Whalers has been gaining ground the past few years. Former Owner Howard Baldwin has a plan. Here’s a Facebook fan page for a websire called Whaler Nation.

And for those of you with eyes who can see my CBS profile icon/logo, it is the raising of the Hartford Whalers 1986-87 Adams Division Champion ship banner. The coach of that team once said that Hartford threw a better parade for losing in the playoffs that year, than Chicago did when he won a Stanley Cup. And now that banner hangs in solitarty yearning along with the retired jerseys of 6 Whalers in the XL Center (formerly the Hartford Civic Center) where they will stay until the end of time with or without a hockey team. A sole reminder of the passion that still rests inside a tormented fan base.

For at least one more year anyway.

Category: NHL
Posted on: March 1, 2010 11:00 am
Edited on: March 1, 2010 11:29 am
 

Winter Olympics End, Hockey Fades Away

Well, now that the Winter Olympics are over, sports fans can go back to their regular scheduled programs. Older fans won't be watching Shaun White throwing huge tricks in the snowboard halfpipe. Younger fans won't be watching figure skating for three hours a day. And most fans won't care about the NHL or hockey anymore now that the Olympics are over.

And that's not because Team USA lost to Team Canada in both gold medal games, which by the way, were both great games. That's because the NHL is harder to find on Versus than it was to find Olympic hockey on MSNBC. That's because Gary Bettman, the worst commissioner in sports and hasn't committed NHL players for the 2014 games in Russia. That's because hockey isn't a mainstream sport in the USA.

Why is that? Well, it could be that the minority of players happen to be American born. Most NHLers are Canadian or other international players from Europe. It could be the lack of a national TV deal. Heck, even MLS (Soccer) and NASCAR are on ESPN once a week. Earlier this decade the NHL didn't play for an entire year and alienated the general fan in the USA. To be fair, MLS is having their own labor problems, but that's not the point.

I like hockey. Over the past couple of years, I've probably watched more hockey than I have in the previous twenty years of my life. I want to keep watching it and get excited for regular season games that don't involve rivalries. I want to get excited for hockey that doesn't involve the words Winter Olympics and Stanley Cup Playoffs. I want to watch Chris Drury and the Rangers and live and die with every goal for and against them.

Now there was a lot of good that came out of Team USA making it to the gold medal game against Canada. Ratings for the gold medal game were over 17 on the ratings scale, which is probably one of the highest rated hockey games in the country. Makes you wonder why all the hockey games weren't on NBC to begin with, but I digress. Team USA was devastated when they lost. They cared about winning. Canada probably would have been worse if they had lost. The average fan learned that Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin (from Russia) is a world-class jerk since he didn't speak to any reporters other than Russia's and shoved away a fan's camera. And the average fan can now hate the Pittsburgh Penguins and refer to that kid as Sidney F. Crosby for the rest of his career.

I want to get over the one sports scar of my life, the Hartford Whalers being bought out by scumbag owner Peter F. Karmanos and moving to the hockey hotbed of Raleigh, NC. That won't happen until the Whalers return to Hartford, but until then, I'd like to actually watch Rangers or Isles games and actually care about what happens. Because right now, I don't. I care more about Sprint Cup results and MLS/EPL scores because the NHL just doesn't appeal to me right now.

But that’s my problem. I have a personal grudge against hockey. Most fans don’t hate hockey, they just don’t care to watch it that often. The NHL is currently behind the NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAAF/B and probably NASCAR in ratings. That’s a problem for hockey, because clearly fans watched the Olympics and loved it. It proves that the NHL isn’t doing something right to appeal to national fans.

People will say the same thing about MLS and the World Cup and that somehow wearing your nation’s colors appeals to more people and fans. I wouldn’t deny this, but if front office people and league officials think that it will translate into ratings or revenue, they’re insane. Does this mean I hate Ryan Miller, Team USA and Buffalo Sabres goalie? Absolutely not, but I’m not going to buy his jersey or order NHL Center Ice.

I will continue to watch the NHL and hockey because I like the sport. But the sport is never going to convert average fans in the USA if it doesn’t get its act together. Does that mean more NHL teams in Canada? Maybe. Does that mean contracting teams? Possibly. Does that mean lowering ticket prices? Absolutely.

America wants to care about hockey Mr. Bettman, they really do. Figure out how to turn that into a positive for your league.

And if you want my hard-earned money, that positive had better include the Hartford Whalers.

Posted on: May 5, 2009 11:55 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2009 7:59 am
 

NHL Relocations = BRING BACK THE WHALERS!!!

The Pheonix Coyotes team has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and a has recieved a bid from BlackBerry CEO to purchase the team. Details from CBSSports here. This is just another time for me to bring up my favorite argument in all of sports...

BRING BACK THE WHALERS!!!

That's right, the Hartford Whalers need to be reintorduced to the NHL. And this needs to happen soon. For those of you who aren't up on your hockey history, let me explain. A little over a decade ago in 1994, some sleazy, scumbag businessman named Peter Karmanos purchased the Hartford Whalers. Fed up with mediocre attendence, lack of corporate sponsors and a relic of an arena, Karmanos attempted to work out a deal for a new stadium with the state of Connecticut. When that failed, coupled with a failure to sellout all the season ticket packages (which were only available in full-season, no mini-plans, to increase coprorate buyers and deter the average fan), Karmanos moved the team to Raleigh, NC and changed the team to the Carolina Hurricanes.

For the record (and I've made this point before), the NHL is dead to me. It will always be dead to me until Peter Karmanos and Gary Bettman are retired, and the Whalers are back in Hartford. And if you think I'm overreacting a little bit, ask Seattle Sonic fans how they feel right now. It's the same situation, just a different sport and city. And it's going to hurt just the same 12 years down the road, I guarantee it. But, back the main point.

There is a myriad of reasons why the Whalers moved. They are in between the two biggest markets on the east coast, New York and Boston. They did lack corporate sponsors and TV deals. Their new decrepit owner wanted out of Hartford. He shuffled season ticket plans to deter average fans from buying them, but attendence still rose. Because within the city of Hartford, and the state of Connecticut, they had the one of the greatest fan bases in all of sports, not just the NHL. They have the Brass Bonanza, the greatest theme song in the NHL. They have Glen Wesley and Ron Francis among the many great players in franchise history. If attendence was a major factor in the teams move, take a look at this website.

The Whalers had growing attendence it's final 5 years in Hartford, from 1992-1997. The attendence numbers for the first 4 years in Carolina, from 1997- 2001, didn't even reach the numbers of the last regular season in Hartford. It's not until the Hurricanes' 2002 Stanley Cup run that attendence surpasses Hartford's numbers. And Karmanos left Hartford and and 12,000 diehard fans for 9,000 corporate slugheads (no offense to the real, blue-collar Carolina fans, I don't hate you. Just don't wear a Hurricanes hat in the state of Connecticut, it's for your own good).

So I ask you Gary Bettman, Chief Bonehead of the NHL, to reconsider Hartford, CT for an NHL franchise. Pheonix is folding, the Islanders owner regrets purchasing the team, Columbus, Atlanta, Nashville and Florida could be moved as well. No offense to those franchises and cities, but aside from Columbus, you can't defend the warm-weather location of your hockey teams. And the state of Florida doesn't deserve two-teams, sorry.

Take a look at the NHL Teams Map. Look at where all of the teams are located. The entire Eastern Conference is located in the Eastern Time Zone, and the Western Confernce takes everything else. I'm not knocking the rest of the country, but over one third of all the teams in the NHL are located in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region. If the NHL wants to relocate to Canada, that's fine with me, it's their sport and they should have more teams in my opinion. But do you really think that a franchise is going to be successful in Kansas City or San Francisco? Really? I don't buy it, not for a second. Seattle? Utah? Milwaukee? I can buy those areas. That's hockey country. It's cold, there's an actual winter. KC and the Bay Area in California are only possible locations for NHL teams because they have other successful sports franchises and the NHL is hoping that those existing fans can support the new team.

Pheonix lasted 13 years in Arizona after relocating from Winnipeg in 1996. The Whalers have been away from Hartford for 12 years. Let's face it, if it weren't for the University of Connecticut Huskies, those 12 years would be some of the darkest in the history of Connecticut sports. The state doesn't boast any top level pro teams in the four major sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). The WNBA's Connecticut Sun is the only true top teir professional team in the state. It does boast several minor and independent baseball teams and also has two AHL teams in Bridgeport (NYI) and Hartford (NYR). But aside from the occasional, NE Revs or US soccer game in Hartford, that's really it for Connecticut pro sports.

The state has been starved for too long in my opinion. We've ridden the UConn teams long enough. It's time to give Connecticut an pro team again. Connecticut has had enough bad news when it comes to professional sports. The Patriots almost came to Hartford in 1999, but that deal was also nixed by Patriots owner Robert Kraft. It's time to give the sports fans in Connecticut some good news, and the best news you could give my state would be to bring back the Hartford Whalers.

I understand, that this probably won't happen for a few years. I'm not asking for the Whalers to return next season, because that's not a reasonable request and I'm a rational fan, I understand how the relocation process works. It takes time to organize a plan between the teams and state/local governments. But somewhere down the road, in the near future I hope, an NHL team/franchise/owner, will take a shot a revitalizing the Hartford Whalers.

I guarantee it will not be a mistake.

- Eagle
Category: NHL
Posted on: April 14, 2009 11:13 pm
 

NHL Postseason Preview(?)

I bet a few of you are wondering what that question mark is doing in my title. Well, you see, here's the thing. I'm not what you would call a hockey expert. In fact, I've only been to two hockey games in my life, including a trip to MSG for a Rangers game that I blogged about here.

But that doesn't stop me from following the local teams in the area (Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Flyers). As I mentioned in linked blog entry, the Rangers are my favorite team by default, but my heart remains with the Hartford Whalers. Some of you would say the Carolina Hurricanes, and this would warrant a few nasty scowls from the locals in Connecticut. Just tread lightly with hockey in the state. And don't mention Peter Karmanos either while your at it.

Anyway, I was debating with myself whether or not to watch the NHL Playoffs this year. And it's actually somewhat of a major decision. Let's just say if the Braves were still on TBS, this entry wouldn't have even been a tiny thought in my probably equally tiny brain. So after a quick web surfing session, I found a few intriguing facts about the NHL Postseason that might make it worth watching.

Rangers Penalty Kill vs. Capitals Power Play

This is one of my favorite hockey matchups. Stonewall defense vs. High-powered offense. Something has to give. Probably leaning towards the Rangers' D breaking first. Henrik Lundqvist can't stop everything thrown his way, but he's going to try. By the way, the Rangers have the #1 penalty kill against the Capitals #2 power play. IF the Rangers can muster some offense, they can win this series. Capitals took 3 of 4 in the regular season.

Devils Frozen Over?

Usually the Devils are a rock-solid team behind Martin Brodeur. Lately, not so much. The Devils might be the coldest higher seed entering the playoffs. They've been awful, especially in late March. A slight rebound in April might be able to hold off the Hurricanes in Round 1, but probably not enough for a deep run towards the Stanley Cup. Experts are picking the 'Canes in the upset here but I'd love to see them get bounced in the first round for obvious reasons...

San Jose vs. Detroit

If there's one matchup I'd love to see (and Versus for that matter) it's this one. Detroit is Hockeytown USA. They've been here before. But the Sharks have been the best team in the NHL pretty much all season. They started off hot and never looked back. I love to see upsets in March, but if the Western Conference went "chalk," I'd love to see this series go seven.

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia

Let's face it, these two Pennsylvania teams don't like each other much. This series is of course a rematch from last years Eastern Conf. Finals. I've already seen multiple Facebook statuses about Sidney Crosby's level of toughness and that he is going to be crying to his mother after a four-game sweep. Personally? I want this one to go seven, just to draw out the epic battle between fan bases. And to think the NHL is losing popularity...

Alas, there is just one problem with the NHL (and the NBA) playoffs. They're too long. Four rounds, including the finals, of best of seven series. You play four months of regular season games for a two month postseason (and two months without shaving...) that could end up dragging on for what seems like eternity. Oh, and I forgot to mention the other problem with the NHL Playoffs:

It doesn't include the Hartford Whalers.

And I won't be a true NHL fan until it does. Sadly, I feel like I'm going to be waiting a while.

(Your dead to me, Karmanos. DEAD TO ME!!!)

- Eagle

Posted on: January 8, 2009 4:09 pm
 

A Night at The Garden - Canadian-Rangers from MSG

For those of you who don't know, you would assume that the Rangers are my favorite hockey team by looking at my CBS Profile. And well, your wrong. And it's not your fault. You see, the NHL has been dead to me since the Hartford (CT) Whalers left for Carolina. I haven't been to an NHL game since 1997 when I watch a 3-2 Whalers win over the Canadians at the Hartford Civic Center (now the XL Center, and home of the AHL's Hartford Wolfpack, the Rangers affiliate).

The Rangers claim my favorite team spot by default, although I probably should be a Islanders fan because their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport (CT) Sound Tigers, play 10 minutes from my house. But because the Rangers have Chris Drury, the hometown hero of Trumbull, CT, they claim the top spot. And when my friend called me out of the blue yesterday with an invite to MSG for that night's game, I couldn't say no. So despite the fact that I had no power thanks to the ice storm that hit Connecticut, the plan came together and I traveled to NYC with two buddies for my first hockey game at MSG.

Before I start rambling, let me just start with the fact that I've been to MSG before. I've seen a couple of Knicks games and a few college games as well, including the 2008 Big East championship between Pitt and Georgetown. But the atmosphere for basketball games seems subdued. The NBA seems too corporate, and considering that both Knicks games I watched were in corporate box seats, I don't mean that as a compliment. But, this was several years ago, when the Knicks, well, sucked. Maybe now times have changed and the real fans are back in force. I don't know. The Big East game was a neutral site game, so most of the crowd, including me, probably had tickets before the Big East Tournament even started and therefore probably had no true rooting interest since their team was most likely knocked out.

But hockey is different. It doesn't have that corporate feel to it. The die-hard fans always seem to be out in force and the casual fan like myself can appreciate the little things. In hockey, the crowd feeds off of every little play that could lead to a goal. During the Canadians-Rangers game, Chris Drury, who also would be considered one of "my boys" if I were on PTI, stole a pass and was one-on-one with the goalie. The crowd practically stood up and an excited murmur ran through The Garden like electricity, only to be changed to groans as Drury's shot went wide. I have yet to find that electricity in a NBA game. I've seen it in college basketball and college football and the NFL, but not the NBA. Maybe it's me, but that's one of the reason I liked college basketball more.

But, on to the highlights, and lowlights, of my first hockey game at MSG...

Lowlight: As I walked up to the automated ticket machine at the train station, I realized that I left my debit card at home. Thus, forcing my self to use $20 of the $60 I had in cash in my wallet. Not the end of the world, but certainly not the start to the evening I was looking for.

Highlight: I found an reason to actually defend my purchase of a faded blue/gray Rangers hat, with the number 23 surrounded by the words "Rangers" and "Drury" above and below the 23 respectfully. I actually had bought the hat at MSG during the Big East Championship game while browsing for a UConn hat.

High/Lowlight: Passing our first Starbucks in Grand Central sparked multiple jokes on the over/under for the number of Starbucks we would see on our little walk from the train station to MSG. We also passed a large number of McDonald's as well. More on this later, but as we entered MSG, the "halftime" score was McDonald's 5 - Starbucks 3.

Highlight: Dinner at White Castle. Do I even need to explain this one? I think not. Hmm....sliders...

Highlight: It was CapitalOne 2009 Team Calender Giveaway Night. Which means I have a cool new calender for 2009 that features all of the Rangers games for the rest of the season.

High/Lowlight: Our seats. Honestly, there's nothing wrong with any seat in MSG. It's all just perception. Where I was sitting, it was difficult to judge the depth of the puck going from side-to-side (or "East-West", benches to the penalty boxes). That drove me nuts because I couldn't tell where the shots were going. Plus, we couldn't see behind the Canadians net at all, since the boards cut off the view. Still, great seats though.

Lowlight: The first Montreal goal. Basically handed to them on a silver platter by Lundqvist when he cleared the puck from behind the net right to a Canadians player who centered the loose puck and it was put right past Lundqvist, who was still out of position. Bad times and 1-0 Canadians.

High/Lowlight: The first Rangers goal. Originally credited to Wade Redden, it was changed during the first intermission to a goal by Chris Drury, much to the delight of our group, who all hail from Trumbull. Sadly, I missed the goal because I was buying beverages...

Lowlight: ...and those beverages cost $8. That's almost as bad as Yankee Stadium ($9.50) the last time I was there.

Lowlight and Epic Fail of the Day: The gentleman sitting beside me, I believe he was Canadian, asked me how many quarters or halves there are in a game of hockey. Yes, this did happen, I'm not joking.

Lowlight: The officiating. It was awful. There's no other way to describe it. Every questionable call went against the Rangers and several blatant calls were blown for both sides, including a few open ice trips and one slash that knocked off the glove of a Rangers player. After only one penalty in the first two periods, the refs whistle two on the Rangers early in the 3rd and it leads to a 5-on-3 for Montreal, who then turn it into a 4-2 lead. This also led to me blowing up with five minutes to go and using several choice words to describe the officials, including several jokes about zebras.

High/Lowlight: Robert Lang's 1st/2nd Goal. It was just pretty. Lang split two Rangers and fired a top-shelf shot over Lundqvist. It's a shame it was a goal for Montreal and it happened on the far end of the ice. But it was still pretty.

Lowlight: The Rangers lost 6-3, with the final tally a short-handed empty net goal by Lang, his third in a row and of the day for a natural hat-trick.

Highlight: As I was leaving MSG, a random fan, started an E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES chant in the stairwell. I have no idea why, but after joining in we exchanged high-fives which started the general smack talk for that Sunday's game. Really good times.

High/Lowlight: As we're walking back to Grand Central, we decide to stop at a McDonald's (the 7th one we'd seen so far) for a quick bite to eat before our 11:20 train back to CT. As my friend comes back from the bathroom, he mentions to us that he talked with the guy who got kicked out of the Rangers game for fighting with another fan. We actually saw this happen during the game, but couldn't see exactly what was happening so thought nothing of it at the time. Still, of the McDonald's to run into the guys who were kicked out for fighting...

High/Lowlight: The final score of our great walk turned out to be an upset: McDonald's 8 - Starbucks 7. I was stunned. I didn't think anyone could supplant Starbucks in an area, but McDonald's actually has. I don't know whether to be impressed or just hang my head in shame.'
Honorable Mentions: Duane Reade (3), Dunkin Donuts (3), T.G.I. Friday's (3)
Dishonorable Mentions: Wendy's (1), Burger King (0) and to the Best Buy and Circuit City that were right next to each other.

Highlight: On the train ride back, a lady walked through our car looking for a seat. She couldn't really open the doors between the cars to well, because she was holding a plastic cup filled with something that smelled rather strong. After she entered the next car, myself, my two buddies and several other nearby passengers all exchanged smirks and just shook our heads. Ah, New York City...

And on that note, I think I'll stop rambling. I don't know if this game will change my mind about hockey. There is still a bitter hole in my heart that was caused by this sport, but I think it's healing now. I've been to around 50 minor-league hockey games and still don't mind listening to an occasional game on the TV or radio. But I will never forget my first hockey game at MSG.

WHOOOOOooooOOOOA!!! WHOOOOOooooOOOOA!!! HEY! HEY! HEY HEY HEY!!! HEY! HEY! HEY HEY HEY!!!

- Eagle
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com