This weekend we brought the old brand back as the Hartford Wolf Pack hockey team changed jerseys to become the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League. A new era begins. It is our intention, however, to take a page out of the past and do all the things we did in the '70s and '80s when my old team, the Hartford Whalers, became such an integral part of the community.
Brass Bonanza, the Whalers theme song, is back, blue and green is back, the "tail" is back. The Whale brand is a brand that still resonates not only locally, but also nationally. The iconic Whaler logo gear remains one of the best-selling brands in the National Hockey League, despite that team's departure for North Carolina and a name change.
But not all our riches are found in the past. The new media also tells us something — the Whalers Facebook page has more than 30,000 friends, which is more than many existing teams. Recently, actors Adam Sandler and Megan Fox proudly showcased Whalers gear in films and during publicity shoots. ESPN anchor Chris Berman (a former Whalers season ticket holder) is among our first season ticket holders for the new Connecticut Whale.
I am back to stay and excited about this new venture. Whalers Sports and Entertainment is a company created by me, my wife, Karen, and son Howard Jr. to reactivate the Whale brand and bring the heart back to hockey in Hartford.
In the '80s and the early '90s, thanks to the support of the loyal fans, the Whalers overcame obstacles and thrived in the Hartford. The team was an integral part of the city — on and off the ice. The commitment the team had to the community resulted in a remarkable charitable foundation that raised millions. The team was — and some say still is — indigenous to Hartford's soul.
The Hartford Whalers players found a home in Hartford and, in return, the fans embraced them as their own. Players such as Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen became vested in the community. The team believed in giving back. The charitable works and effect the team had off the ice is something of which I am most proud.
Fan support still exists, and the interest and excitement about the Whale name getting back on the ice is palpable. In August, we held Summer Fest and 5,000 loyal fans of all ages came to Rentschler Field to share memories with players and each other. This February, we are planning another landmark — Winter Fest 2011 at Rentschler Field. Our intention is to set the attendance record for the largest outdoor AHL hockey game ever held — outdoor hockey with professional, prep school, college and celebrities all coming together.
As part of what I am doing now with the Whale of the AHL, I am frequently asked, "Will the NHL come back to Hartford?"
Fair enough. My answer is, "I have no idea."
The Whalers succeeded in those early years because the community was an equal partner in the team's success. It is a privilege to be back in the Hartford marketplace. It is a city we all love and care about. This weekend, hockey night in Hartford is back. Will it continue? We believe so because we know it's in the right hands — yours.
Whatever happens depends upon how we support our AHL team. Remember, the Whalers played in the World Hockey Association for seven years and filled the Civic Center on a regular basis. This we must do again. We must heed the lessons of the past and look with anticipation to the future — but remember to focus on the present. Enjoy and support the current AHL team and then we can see what the future may bring down the ice.
Howard Baldwin is chairman of Whalers Sports & Entertainment Inc, and is business manager of the newly named Connecticut Whale hockey team.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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