The Connecticut Whale(rs) have returned! Welcome back to Hockey Night In Hartford.
From the Hartford Courant.
As the green-and-blue uniforms hit the ice a few minutes before 7 p.m. Saturday, "Brass Bonanza" filled the XL Center and 13,089 fans reveled in the nostalgia of the moment.
"It feels like old times," Howard Baldwin said.
And there was indeed a sense that Hartford's downtown arena was in a time warp on the night when the AHL team was re-christened as the Connecticut Whale. With green jerseys throughout the stands, fans roared during a pregame video that interspersed Whalers from the past with Whales of the present — a shot of Kris Newbury followed by the image of Pat Verbeek.
After all of the references to Hartford's hockey history (Tony Harrington belting out the national anthem, a group of former Whalers on the ice before the game, the introduction of "Welcome back to Hockey Night in Hartford"), the game came down to a shootout for the former Wolf Pack.
When Jeremy Williams netted the game-winner to secure a 3-2 win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the crowd erupted. And appropriately, the night that was as much a celebration of Hartford hockey was capped with another rendition of "Brass Bonanza."
Jeremy Williams celebrates his overtime shootout goal that beat the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the XL Center. It was the Connecticut Whale's first game under a new name. (MARK MIRKO)
"You can feel the energy," said Whale coach Ken Gernander, who has been with Hartford's AHL franchise since its inception in 1997. "When a big play is made, it just enhances the game."
Most of the crowd remained throughout the overtime period and shootout. Baldwin, who took over the marketing of the team just weeks before the season, hopes customers keep coming back and an exciting game will only help his chances.
Video highlights from the game are here.Baldwin was hoping for a crowd of 10,000-plus, but the Whale got a walkup of about 3,200. And beyond the number of fans in the building, it was an electric atmosphere.
"I don't think people understand the difference," Williams said. "When you step out there and make a big hit and everybody goes bananas, it makes you want to do it again and again. It's a great feeling. I'm hoping we get some good fan support now. It helps the guys and I think it will be really good for the city."
The players noticed the difference before their pregame skate. They decided to connect with the crowd by discarding their helmets for the early skate and they seem to feed off the fans once the puck was dropped.
"The crowd was awesome," said Brodie Dupont, who had a goal and an assist.
NOTE TO NHL OVERLORDS: You have a team that is in bankruptcy in Phoenix that you had to take buy and spend millions of dollars on. Yet 13,000 fans will still show up and support the Whale. The southern expansion did not work as you intended get the NHL back into Hartford, Quebec City and Winnipeg (three viable NHL hockey markets) and maybe people will start caring about the sport again.