Whalers fans still root­ing, 22 years af­ter team’s move

The News-Times - - SPORTS -

HART­FORD — For Mark An­der­son, the opening game be­tween the Carolina Hur­ri­canes and the Bos­ton Bru­ins was a trip down memory lane.

An­der­son was watch­ing Game 1 closely at a gath­er­ing in sub­ur­ban Hart­ford Thurs­day night as the Bru­ins ral­lied to beat the Hur­ri­canes 5-2 be­hind four goals in the third pe­riod.

“Look at that,” An­der­son said af­ter Pa­trice Berg­eron’s goal put Bos­ton ahead for good. “It’s just like old times. Two b.s. penal­ties against us lead to two b.s. Bru­ins goals.”

If An­der­son sounds like a Hur­ri­canes fan, you’re not far off the mark. He is in fact a Hart­ford Whalers fan and was one of sev­eral mem­bers of the Hart­ford Whalers Booster Club (yes, it still ex­ists) who watched the game at a Buf­falo Wild Wings res­tau­rant in Manch­ester.

Twenty-two years af­ter Hart­ford’s only ma­jor pro­fes­sional fran­chise left the city for Raleigh, North Carolina, the bit­ter­sweet love of the Whalers is still go­ing strong for some.

The 44-year-old An­der­son and the oth­ers could not re­sist getting to­gether as the fran­chise that left them faced their for­mer New Eng­land ri­val. Most said they were root­ing for the Hur­ri­canes, even if it caused them to spit up in their mouths just a lit­tle bit.

“I’ve al­ways said that no mat­ter what, I’d never root for the Bru­ins and never root for the Rangers,” said Dan Narvesen, 40, who came from some 25 miles away in Granby to watch with the club. “So, this would be one of the few times that I will root for Carolina.”

“And, whether it was for a money grab or not, the new owner did bring back the Whalers jer­seys for a cou­ple games this year, so at least they are fi­nally ac­knowl­edg­ing the past,” he added.

Are Narvesen and other Whalers die-hards liv­ing in that past? For­mer Whalers player Bob Crawford doesn’t see it that way.

Crawford, whose first goal in Hart­ford was a game-win­ner against the Bru­ins in 1983, said the city still holds a spe­cial place for many who fol­low the NHL, com­par­ing it to Green Bay in the NFL: It was a small­mar­ket team that shared an un­der­dog iden­tity with the city, fight­ing for re­spect and recog­ni­tion be­tween New York and Bos­ton.

“There is still a smile when peo­ple say Hart­ford

Whalers,” said Crawford, who played for the team from 1983-86, still calls Con­necti­cut home and owns sev­eral rinks in the state. “Peo­ple who come here feel that warmth. It’s a spe­cial place and they love their Whalers, even now. You still see the colors ev­ery­where.”

The fans also still hold out hope for the NHL’s re­turn. Be­tween beers and glances at the big screen, the talk Thurs­day night, as it often is when Whalers fans gather, is how to make that hap­pen. Two years ago, hopes were raised as the New York Is­lan­ders scram­bled to find a new home — the gover­nor even reached out to the NHL — but the

team wound up set­tling on a new lo­ca­tion near Bel­mont Park.

Club Pres­i­dent Joanne Cortesa said she be­lieves an NHL re­turn is just a pipe dream, “at least while (Gary) Bettman is com­mis­sioner.”

Oth­ers, like Matthew Greene, 41, are more hope­ful. If the state would agree to re­build or ren­o­vate the ag­ing XL Cen­ter, the 15,000seat arena where the Whalers once played and the city promotes the In­ter­state 91 cor­ri­dor be­tween New Haven, Con­necti­cut, and Spring­field, Mas­sachusetts, as a vi­able mar­ket, well, there’s a path, he said.

“The prob­lem is nobody in pol­i­tics here dares to think big enough,” he said. “Have you ever been to a St. Patrick’s Day pa­rade in Con­necti­cut? Look at how

much of that green is Whalers shirts. The fan base is here.”

The city is cur­rently home to the AHL’s Hart­ford Wolf Pack, which draws only about 4,000 fans per game. Whalers fan Scott St. Lau­rent quickly pointed out the team is a New York Rangers af­fil­i­ate —and the mi­nors are not the NHL. He said there had been chat­ter that the Hur­ri­canes might play a pre­sea­son game in Hart­ford, which would al­low fans to fill the arena and show the NHL the po­ten­tial is there.

“Do you think they’d still do that if they win the Stan­ley Cup this year?” he asked.

“I doubt it,” Cortesa replied.

“A rea­son to root for the Bru­ins,” Greene added as Bos­ton scored again.

Pat Ea­ton-Robb / As­so­ci­ated Press

Hart­ford Whalers Booster Club mem­bers, from left, Scott St. Lau­rent, Joanne Coressa and Dan Narvesen pose out­side a Manch­ester res­tau­rant on Thurs­day where they gath­ered to watch Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Con­fer­ence play­off series be­tween the Carolina Hur­ri­canes and the Bos­ton Bru­ins.

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