Sun, May 12, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Whalers fans never stopped cheering

AP, HARTFORD, Connecticut

Scott St Laurent, left, and Matthew Greene chat with other members of the Hartford Whalers Booster club on Thursday at a restaurant in Manchester, Connecticut.

Photo: AP

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

Anderson on Thursday watched Game 1 closely at a gathering in suburban Hartford, Connecticut, as the Bruins rallied to beat the Hurricanes 5-2.

“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 are 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 in Manchester.

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

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 a little bit.

“I’ve always said that no matter what, I’d never root for the Bruins and never root for the Rangers,” Dan Narvesen said. “So this would be one of the few times that I will root for Carolina.”

“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 diehards living in that past? Former Whalers player Bob Crawford does not see it that way.

Crawford said that the city still holds a special place for many who follow the NHL, comparing it to Green Bay in the NFL: They were a small-market team who 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 to 1986. “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 on Thursday night was about 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 location near Belmont Park, New York.

Club president Joanne Cortesa said that she believes an NHL return is just a pipe dream.

Others, such as Matthew Greene, are more hopeful. If the state would agree to rebuild or renovate the aging XL Center and the city promotes the Interstate 91 corridor between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, there is a path, he said.

“The problem is nobody in politics here dares to think big enough,” he said. “Have you ever been to a Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Connecticut? Look at how much of that green is Whalers shirts. The fan base is here.”

Whalers fan Scott St Laurent said there had been chatter that the Hurricanes might play a pre-season game in Hartford, which would allow fans to fill the arena and show the NHL that 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.

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