Ron Francis played 10 years with the Hartford Whalers. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
As the years continue to pile up since NHL hockey packed its bags and headed for windier pastures, it would be easy for the folks in Hartford to give up the desire of reviving the Whalers. But for one small, but passionate group, the hope remains – and it’s far from a pipe dream.
The Hartford Whalers Booster Club came into existence around the same time the organization was formed as an expansion World Hockey Association team in 1971 and has bled green ever since.
Though its membership now hovers around just 50 people (it once sported more than 1,000), the group continues its fight to bring back the NHL, whether by expansion or relocation. Leading the charge is club president Alan Victor, who’s currently in his third term.
“We would love to have the Hartford Whalers back, but if we become, say, the Florida Panthers, that’d be great, too,” Victor said. “Our goal is to have NHL hockey back in Connecticut…We certainly feel that we are a better market than, say, Atlanta who has now had two teams and are struggling again with their second team. We feel that once we get a team back here a ticket will be just as hard to get as it would be in Minnesota.”
In addition to coordinating an annual ‘fanniversary’ held around the day – April 13, 1997 – the Whalers played their final game, the club’s other major mission is their petition to build a new arena, which currently has more than 10,000 signatures.
Key to any possibility of a team’s arrival is the building of a suitable facility that meets NHL standards for capacity and luxury boxes. Victor says he has the ears of several of the city’s powerbrokers and believes a new venue could be built without the use of public money, which is always a political minefield.
“I personally don’t feel that the average citizen in the States should pay for an arena,” Victor said. “It should be the people who use entertainment venues, that pay for the arena.”
The state would have to front the money for the construction costs, but the bonds could be repaid, Victor says, by a minute 0.1 percent tax on things like hotel rooms and car rentals. Victor points to Houston, Texas, which he says built Minute Maid Park and Reliant Stadium using a similar plan.
A shiny new arena alone would probably not be enough to lure an NHL team back to Connecticut, but it would certainly start the process of fulfilling the dreams of many fans not only in Hartford, but across the hockey community.
“Everyone says the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team, well I’ll tell you who America’s team is: it’s the Hartford Whalers,” Victor said. “Every place you go, people know who the Hartford Whalers are. I’ve been lucky enough to see a game in every NHL arena and every place you go and you wear the Whalers colors and they go ‘oh, that’s the Hartford Whalers.’ It’s just a great feeling to wear the colors and everyone know who you are.”
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears weekly.
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