Amazingly, it will be 20 years on Thursday since the Hartford Whalers played their last game. On April 13, 1997, they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Civic Center, 2-1, then decamped for Raleigh, North Carolina and changed their name to the Carolina Hurricanes.
It still hurts.
The Whale began life in 1971 as the Boston-based New England Whalers of the World Hockey League. The team moved to Hartford for the 1974-75 season, playing its first game in the brand-spanking-new Hartford Civic Center Coliseum on January 11, 1975. The team thrived in Hartford, which led to it becoming one of just four WHA teams accepted into the National Hockey League in the WHA-NHL merger of 1979. Along with the new league came a new name: the Hartford Whalers.
Software entrepreneur Peter Karmanos Jr. bought the Whalers in 1994 and soon began pressing the state of Connecticut, which owned the Civic Center, for a bigger and better facility, along with better lease terms. (Increased luxury-box seating and similar “revenue streams” figured prominently here.) Negotiations with the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland broke down. In March 1997, Karmanos announced that the current season would be his team’s last in Hartford.
Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs, who began covering the Whalers in 1984, wrote a tribute to the Whalers last Sunday, making sure to eviscerate both Karmonos and the recently re-imprisoned Rowland. One line in particular was news to me:
Rowland, from Waterbury and not a hockey guy, didn’t love the Whalers enough to do everything to save the team. General manager Jim Rutherford later told me if he had offered Karmanos anything resembling what he offered Robert Kraft to move the [New England] Patriots [to Connecticut], the NHL would still be in Hartford.
So we are left with nostalgia. To that end, enjoy the great photo gallery that accompanies Jacobs’ column. It might also make you feel better to follow the indefatigable Hartford Whalers Booster Club on Facebook.