Until 1997, the 'Canes were the Hartford Whalers. The Devils don't go to Hartford anymore. But they should be going there tonight, instead of to Raleigh.
The Devils haven't played in Hartford since February 12, 1997 -- 19 seasons ago. What was it like to see a Devils-Whalers game in Hartford? Let me go back into my archives, and show you this blog entry from February 5, 1997.
(Yes, I know: There were no blogs back then. Humor me. Updates will be given in italics.)
Before You Go. Hartford is a bit to the north of New York and New Jersey, but the weather won't be appreciably different from home on the same day. This game will be played in mid-February, so a winter jacket will be necessary.
Hartford is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to wind your watch back.
Tickets. The Whalers averaged just 11,983 fans per game in 1995-96, out of a seating capacity of 15,635, about 76 percent of capacity. New owner Peter Karmanos threatened to move the team if he didn't get at least 11,000 season tickets sold for this season. He got it, and Whaler attendance is better, but he still wants a new arena, and it doesn't look like Governor John G. Rowland is going to get the Connecticut legislature to pass funding for it. So tickets shouldn't be hard to get.
Karmanos announced on March 26, 1997 that the team was moving -- without having picked out a new city. He got an agreement from Raleigh, North Carolina to build a new arena, to open in the 1999-2000 season, while they would use the Greensboro Coliseum for 2 years.
It is now believed that Rowland was holding back from pushing the legislature, because what he really wanted was to lure the New England Patriots with a new football stadium, and he didn't think the State could afford a new stadium and a new arena. Instead, he lost the Whalers, the Patriots decided to build their new stadium next to their old one, a smaller-than-expected 40,000-seat stadium was built in East Hartford for the University of Connecticut, and Rowland has since gone to prison for fraud. Twice.
Tickets are $50 in the upper level, and $25 in the lower level.
Getting There. Hartford is too close to fly, and doesn't have much of an airport, anyway. If you're driving, it's 128 miles from the Brendan Byrne -- excuse me, Continental Airlines Arena to the Hartford Civic Center. Take the New Jersey Turnpike to Exit 18W (or 18E, if you're not leaving right from the Meadowlands), go over the George Washington Bridge, and take Interstate 95 to New Haven. To Exit 48 to Interstate 91 North, to Exit 29A for downtown Hartford.
The Byrne Arena got its name changed to the Continental Airlines Arena in 1996, and then to the IZOD Center in 2007, after the Devils left for the Prudential Center. It was closed at the beginning of 2015, and will be demolished in the next few years.
If all goes well, once you get over the Bridge, you should spend about half an hour in New York, and about an hour and 45 minutes in Connecticut before reaching the arena. Depending on from where in New Jersey you leave, the trip should take between 2 and a half hours to 3 and a half hours.
Union Station, which is served by both Amtrak and Greyhound, is 2 blocks to the west of the arena, at 1 Union Place between Church & Asylum Streets. The Amtrak round-trip fare is $60. Greyhound runs 13 buses per day between Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York and Union Station in Hartford. The fare is $39, but can drop to $26 with advanced purchase.
I don't know what the actual fares would have been. This is based on what they are now, and using the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, going backwards for once, and knowing that, while, in those early days of the Internet as we know it, it wasn't possible to order tickets online, it was still possible to show up at a station's ticket office and make an advanced purchase.
Once In the City. Hartford, named for the English country of Hertfordshire, is home to about 140,000 people, making around the same size as New Haven and Bridgeport, each competing to be the largest city in the State of Connecticut. When the Hartford metropolitan area is separated from the Boston metropolitan area, it's got about 1.5 million. Hartford is the State capital.
Hartford is now home to about 125,000 people, trailing Bridgeport at 144,000, New Haven at 130,000, and now also Stamford at 128,000. The metro area population is about the same.
The State House
It is known for being the home of the Colt Firearms Company, Stanley Tools, and several insurance companies. (Hence "Hardware City" and "Insurance City.") The sales tax in Connecticut is 6.35 percent. It does not rise within the County or the City of Hartford. The Hartford Courant is the largest-circulating newspaper in Connecticut, and the oldest continuously-published daily newspaper in America.
Hartford doesn't seem to have a centerpoint, from which street addresses increase. However, the addresses do seem to increase from south to north, and from east to west. This is also true of the City of East Hartford, across the Connecticut River. CT Transit runs the area's buses, and a 1-Day Pass is $2.00.
It's now $3.00.
Going In. The official address of the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum is 1 Civic Center Plaza. It's bounded by Church Street (north), Trumbull Street (east), Asylum Street (south) and Pleasant Street (west). Parking is $7.50.
The name of the arena was changed to the XL Center in 2007, after XL Group, an insurance company. Again, I'm plugging the current parking price, $11.00, into the inflation calculator. Pleasant Street between Jewell Street and Morgan Street, including on the west side of the arena, has been renamed Ann Uccello Street, after the 1st female Mayor of Hartford.
The building opened on January 9, 1975, seating 10,507, and the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association moved right in. The University of Connecticut (UConn) basketball team, based 25 miles to the east in Storrs, also began playing selected home games there. The Boston Celtics played an average of 8 games a year there from 1975 to 1978 and again from 1980 to 1995, until the FleetCenter opened. Elvis Presley sang there on July 28, 1976. (The Beatles never played a concert in Connecticut.)
On January 17, 1978, UConn played the University of Massachusetts in basketball, in a game sparsely attended due to snowfall. It kept on snowing, and, just 6 hours after the final horn -- in the middle of the night, fortunately, when the arena was empty, so no one was hurt -- the roof collapsed. The building was just 3 years old. (In contrast, the Boston Garden stood for 70 years before it was finally demolished, and it never had a structural issue.) It took 2 years for the building to be repaired, while the Whalers played 25 miles to the north in Springfield, Massachusetts, and UConn and the Celtics returned to Storrs and Boston, respectively.
January 18, 1978. It could have been a whole lot worse.
On January 17, 1980, the Civic Center reopened, with a new seating capacity of 14,460. It is now 15,635. The Whalers moved back in, and UConn and the Celtics resumed their partial home schedules there. The New England Blizzard of the all-women's American Basketball League play there. The now-defunct Connecticut Coyotes of the Arena Football League played there. The Civic Center has also hosted both men's and women's NCAA basketball tournament games.
The Wolf Pack's current general manger is former Devils head coach Jim Schoenfeld, who famously got us into our 1st Playoffs in 1988, all the way to Game 7 of the Conference Finals. And, infamously, called a referee "you fat pig" and told him to "have another donut!"
Concessions aren't especially interesting, pretty much standard fare. But with the number of families attending with kids, a lot of cotton candy and Carvel ice cream gets sold.
A renovation in time for the 2014-15 season expanded food options significantly, including Dunkin Donuts at the southwest and northeast corners.
Team History Displays. The Whalers' history has been weak. And they don't help themselves: Unlike the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers, who hang ABA title banners, and formerly the Winnipeg Jets and the Quebec Nordiques (since moved), the Whalers do not hang a banner for winning the 1st WHA title in the 1972-73 season, as they were still playing at the Boston Garden at the time. (No banner for it hangs in the FleetCenter: The Bruins would like to forget the WHA ever existed. Indeed, changing the team's name from "New England" to "Hartford" was a condition of entering the NHL in 1979.)
The Whalers do hang banners for titles won while playing in Hartford. All 2 of them: The 1974-75 WHA Eastern Division title, and the 1987 NHL Adams Division title. That's all they've won: Since they entered the NHL, 17 season ago, they've won exactly 1 Playoff series, beating the Nordiques in the 1986 Adams Division Semifinal, before losing the Final to the Montreal Canadiens. They then lost in the 1st round 6 straight times, and haven't made the Playoffs since 1992. The lobby contains a large mural of some of the highlights of the Whalers' history. There is also a banner for the UConn women's team that won the 1995 National Championship.
The Whalers have retired 3 numbers: 2, defenseman Rick Ley, 1972-81 and head coach 1989-91; 9, right wing Gordie Howe, 1977-80; and 19, right wing John McKenzie, 1977-79, signed by the Whalers because of his popularity with the Bruins.
Howe was already in the Hockey Hall of Fame before he began his comeback in the WHA. Bobby Hull played 9 games with the Whalers at the end of his career in 1980. Toronto Maple Leafs legend Dave Keon played for the Whalers 1976-82, and is in the Hall. And a 4th Whaler in the Hall of Fame is Emile Francis, their general manager 1983-89, although he was already in for his service as GM and head coach of the Rangers. Still, 4 Hall-of-Famers in 25 years isn't bad, especially for a team that hasn't reached the Stanley Cup's quarterfinals except for once.
No members of the Team Canada that beat the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series ever played for the Whalers. Two members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team did: Mark Johnson and Rob McClanahan.
In 1998, The Hockey News named its 100 Greatest Players. Howe was the only player who spent significant time with the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise to be named. to it. He, his sons Mark and Marty, Ley, McKenzie, Al Smith, Andre Lacroix, Dave Keon, Ron Plumb, Ted Green and Tom Webster were named to the WHA All-Time Team.
In 2006, the Wolf Pack raised 3 more banners in honor of Whalers stars: 5, defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, 1984-91; 10, center Ron Francis, 1981-91; and 11, right wing Kevin Dineen, 1984-92 and 1996-97, the Whalers' last Captain. Five other Whalers have been elected to the Hall, although only Francis and Gordie's son Mark Howe, 1977-82, can really be considers "Whalers Hall-of-Famers." The others only played 4 seasons in green & white between them: Paul Coffey, Brendan Shanahan and Chris Pronger.
UConn has now won 4 National Championship in men's basketball and 13 in the women's game, and banners for those titles, as well as banners honoring coaches Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, hang in the XL Center, as well as at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
The Wolf Pack hang banners for their 2000 Calder Cup as champions of the AHL, and Division Championships in 2000, 2004, 2009 and 2015. They've also retired Number 12, for Ken Gernander, the Captain of their Calder Cup winners and their current head coach. Ryan Bourque, Ray's son, is their current Captain.
Stuff. The Whalers Gift Store is at the arena's west end. The front door is shaped like a cutout of their old logo from the WHA days.
No, I'm wasn't joking about the Whalers logo door.
Although it is now called the Hartford Wolf Pack Hockey Club Store,
and the Whalers logo is gone.
With such a lackluster history, books and videos about the team are few and far between. If only there was way to use that Internet I've heard so dang much about to search for books and videos.
In 1987, Jack Lautier published Fifteen Years of Whaler Hockey: The History of the Hartford Whalers. In 1995, John Gilbert and Gary Olson published Hartford Whalers, as part of the NHL Today series.
Amazon.com was founded in 1994, and by 1997, it was possible to search it, and the websites of Barnes & Noble and the now-defunct Borders for such items before setting foot in a brick-and-mortar store. Amazon still doesn't have any listings for videos about the Whalers, and only 2 books stand out. In 2007, Brian Codagnone published The Hartford Whalers. In 2005, Ed Willes published the definitive story of the WHA: The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.
During the Game. Hartford does not have a reputation for a crime problem. And Whaler fans consider the Rangers and the Bruins -- 2 teams we also don't like -- to be their rivals. They shouldn't bother you.
The mascot is Pucky the Whale, although it's a little weird to see a big green whale on legs. Tony Harrington is the Whalers' regular National Anthem singer. The main chant is the rather ordinary, "Let's go, Whalers!"
Pucky the Whale and Wolf Pack mascot Sonar the Wolf
Jack Say wrote the Whalers' theme song, "Brass Bonanza." It was introduced in 1975 after the move to Hartford, and became an integral part of the Whalers experience, played after ever home team goal. In 1992, GM Brian Burke ordered that it no longer be played, because, in his words, "There were players who were embarrassed by it." He substituted Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2." After just 1 year, he was hired for a post in the NHL office by Commissioner Gary Bettman, and left, and new head coach and GM Paul Holmgren ordered "Brass Bonanza" reinstated.
The players who were "embarrassed" by "Brass Bonanza" have never been identified. I think Burke simply didn't like it. Since the Whalers left, Burke has failed as GM of Vancouver, Anaheim and Calgary, although he was GM of the Anaheim Ducks when they won the 2007 Stanley Cup. Gary Glitter has twice gone to prison for offenses that make "Rock and Roll Part 2" far more embarrassing than Burke thought "Brass Bonanza" was.
The song is still played at the XL Center, including at Wolf Park and UConn games, and has even become a fixture at Fenway Park. After all, Hartford is closer to Boston (100 miles) than it is to New York (119).
After the Game. You should be safe walking back to your car or to Union Station. There are several places around the arena where you can get a postgame meal, or even just a drink, although the mall might be closed by the time the final horn sounds, and I don't know of any that are known hangouts for New York or New Jersey teams' fans.
As I said, the mall has been redeveloped. Agave Grill is a Mexican restaurant at 100 Allyn Street, across Ann Uccello Street from the XL Center. Black Eyed Sally's is a Southern-themed restaurant at 350 Asylum Street, about halfway between the arena and the station. The Russian Lady, at 191 Ann Uccello Street, calls for "Neat Professional" attire, so it might not be a good idea for a postgame hockey crowd. And, as I said, there are Dunkin Donuts at opposite corners of the arena, which may be open after the game. I can't be sure if any of these places were open while the Whalers were still there.
Sidelights. Hartford's sports history isn't much, and is even less if you, as Peter Karmanos is threatening to do, take away the Whalers. But there are non-sports things to do in the city.
Boston Garden, the Whalers' 1st home
The Whalers played their 1st 2 seasons in Boston, alternating between the Boston Garden and, when the Bruins (who owned the Garden and now own the new arena) shut them out of available dates, the Boston Arena (Matthews Arena at Northeastern University). Fed up with this, they signed the deal to move to Hartford as soon as the Civic Center opened.
Except it wasn't ready for the start of the 1974-75 season, so the Whalers moved to the Eastern States Coliseum, better known as the Big E, longtime home of the AHL's Springfield Indians. It was old (built in 1926), it was small (just 6,000 seats), it wasn't in Hartford (28 miles to the north), and it wasn't even the best arena in town anymore, but they had something they'd never had before: First choice of scheduling in an arena. 1305 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Big E. Already, by this point,
they should've stopped calling themselves the Whalers,
and started calling themselves the New England Wanderers.
When the Civic Center roof collapsed, the Whalers went back north, and played the rest of the 1977-78 season, all of 1978-79, and the first part of 1979-80 at the Springfield Civic Center. Opening in 1972, it hosted the Springfield Indians until 1994, and the Springfield Falcons since then. It seats 6,866. Elvis sang there on July 14 and 15, 1975; and July 29, 1976.
The Springfield Civic Center is now known as the MassMutual Center. It still hosts minor-league hockey. The Big E does not, but it is still open for various events.
The MassMutual Center
Boston Bruins legend Eddie Shore long ran the Springfield Indians, and is buried in Springfield, at Hillcrest Park Cemetery, 895 Parker Street.
The New Britain Red Sox, a Class AA team in the Eastern League, played at the 4,700-seat Beehive Field from 1983 to 1995.
According to an April 23, 2014 article in The New York Times, the Yankees are actually the most popular MLB team in Hartford proper, with about 49 percent of those polled, to about 35 percent for the Red Sox. However, when you get into Hartford's eastern suburbs, the Sox take over, about 44 to 40 percent.
In spite of the Yankees' strength in the area, the Bruins are easily the most popular NHL team now (probably because of Bobby Orr, who gave them a toehold even before the Whalers came along), the Celtics are far more popular than the Knicks (due to their "home games" at The Mall as much as to their 1980s success), and the Patriots (who do, after all, call themselves "New England") are more popular than the Giants.
Veterans Memorial Stadium is a football field at 635 South Main Street in New Britain. The U.S. soccer team played 4 games there between 1973 and 1996, going 3-1. Dillon Stadium is a football stadium at 250 Huyshope Avenue at Curcombe Street, near Charter Oak Landing, a mile and a half southeast of downtown Hartford. The U.S. soccer team beat Bermuda there on September 9, 1973.
Hartford briefly had a major league team in the early days of baseball. The Hartford Dark Blues played at the Hartford Ball Club Grounds in the seasons of 1874 and 1875 in the National Association, and 1876 in the National League, before finances led them to move to Brooklyn. Good Shepherd Church was built on the site. 155 Wyllys Street at Osten Blvd., about a mile southeast of downtown.
Best picture of it that I could find.
There was also a Hartford Blues playing in the NFL, albeit only in the 1926 season, finishing just 3-7. They had Harry Stuhldreher of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen at quarterback, and future Giants legend Steve Owen as a two-way tackle. They played at the East Hartford Velodrome, at a site bounded by Pitkin Street, Founders Plaza, Hartland Street and East River Drive. Albertus Magnus College and a Hampton Inn were built on the site.
Sorry, but I couldn't find any picture of the Velodrome. In 2003, football returned to East Hartford. Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field was meant to be the 60,000-seat new home of the New England Patriots, thus enabling them to keep their regional name. But team owner Robert Kraft merely used the Connecticut capital as a pawn to get a new stadium from Massachusetts next-door to the old one in Hartford. As a result, the stadium was replanned, and seats 40,642. (Foxboro is 99 miles northeast of Hartford.)
It is the new home for UConn football and the high school State Championships. The U.S. national soccer team is 3-1-1 while playing there, most recently in a 1-1 draw with Ecuador on October 10, 2014. The women's team is 2-0-2 there.
Don't get any ideas about major league teams returning to Hartford, with the possible exception of in the NHL. The area's low population base would rank it 31st and last among MLB markets, 32nd in the NFL (ahead of only New Orleans), 28th in the NBA (ahead of New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Memphis), and 27th in the NHL (ahead of only Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, and last among U.S. cities). Hartford has no professional soccer team.
Since 2003, the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA have played at the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, in Uncasville, 46 miles southeast of Hartford, 106 miles southwest of Downtown Boston, and 132 miles northeast of Midtown Manhattan. Mohegan Sun advertises itself as "closer to New York than Atlantic City." This is true: Caesar's Atlantic City is 128 miles from Times Square. What Mohegan Sun doesn't tell you is that it's closer to Boston than to New York, and will have as many Chowdaheads as Pinstripers.
The Sun won the WNBA's Eastern Conference in 2004 and 2005, but lost in the Finals both times. Despite being a natural attraction for players from the University of Connecticut -- UConn's Harry A. Gampel Pavilion is just 30 miles northwest of Mohegan Sun -- they've never won a title. They've retired 3 numbers: 12, for Margo Dydek; 23, for Katie Douglas; and 42, for UConn graduate Nykesha Sales.
The Travelers Tower, headquarters of the insurance company of the same name, opened in 1919, and is Hartford's most familiar landmark besides the State House. It is 527 feet tall. In 1980, it was surpassed as the tallest building in the State of Connecticut by City Place I, at 185 Asylum Street, a short walk from the Civic Center: 534 feet.
City Place I is still the State's tallest building.
Hartford is home to the nation's oldest public art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, at 600 Main Street at Gold Street. The Connecticut Science Center is at 250 Columbus Blvd. at Grove Street. The Mark Twain House, the last home of the author born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is at 351 Farmington Avenue at Forest Street, adjacent to Hartford Public High School, about a mile west of downtown. Bus 60.
No President has ever been born in Connecticut, although George Bush grew up in Greenwich and attended Yale University in New Haven. William Howard Taft also graduated from Yale, and, like Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, went to Yale Law School. But New Haven is 36 miles from Hartford.
Yale is also the only Connecticut-based school to win hockey's National Championship, in 2013.
His son, George W. Bush, was born at Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1946, and, like his father and grandfather, is a Yale graduate (however the hell that happened). But you'll never be able to convince him that he's anything other than Texas through and through.
Of course, since this post would have been written, George W. assumed the office of the Presidency, so Connecticut does now have a Presidential Birthplace. Not that very many people in the State are proud of this one.
The 1st Presidential Debate of 1996, between Clinton and Bob Dole, was held at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center. 166 Capitol Avenue, across Trinity Street from the State House.
In addition to Hartford, Elvis Presley sang at the 11,171-seat New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum on July 16 and 17, 1975; and July 30, 1976. State and George Streets. The Coliseum replaced the 4,000-seat New Haven Arena, which stood from 1926 to 1974 at State and Grove Streets, 5 blocks away. Like its successor, it hosted minor-league sports, especially hockey, and concerts, including the one on December 3, 1967 when Jim Morrison of The Doors got arrested onstage.
Built in 1972, the New Haven Coliseum was demolished in 2007. It has not been replaced.
Lots of movies have been filmed in Connecticut, but none that I can find were shot in Hartford. Same with TV shows: Bewitched was set in Westport and Who's the Boss? in Fairfield, but neither in Hartford. I guess the capital city simply isn't glamorous enough for Hollywood honchos.
Judging Amy took place in Hartford, running on CBS from 1999 to 2005. Gilmore Girls, which ran on The WB from 2000 to 2007, did some filming in Hartford, but was set in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, said to be half an hour's drive away.
So now you have a taste of what it would have been like to attend a New Jersey Devils game away to the Hartford Whalers.
And the result of that last Devils game in Hartford, on February 12, 1997? The Devils won, 3-2. The last Whalers game, home or otherwise, was on April 13, 1997, a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Civic Center.
Perhaps, someday, when Gary Bettman's successor as Commissioner decides that his predecessor was an idiot, and that putting so many teams in the Sun Belt was not the answer, the NHL will return to Hartford.
In the meantime, the city and the arena have the Wolf Pack, and the memories of the Whalers.