Hartford Put On Quite A Show

January 13, 2006 -- Bruce Berlet -- Hartford Courant

One of the 12,206 fans exiting the Civic Center last Friday night spoke volumes in 13 words.

"Anyone who didn't show up for this missed one hell of a show," he said.

Yes, the Wolf Pack and Madison Square Garden Connecticut had every right to take bows after one of the most memorable nights in Hartford hockey history. A 35-minute pregame ceremony on Whalers Appreciation Night honoring Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson had class all over it.

Most of the largest crowd since the Wolf Pack raised their only Calder Cup banner before the 2000-01 opener matched the class of the show. One woman complained about "Brass Bonanza," the Whalers' theme song, being played after each Pack goal in a 5-2 victory over the Dineen-coached Portland Pirates, but it was a nice touch keeping with the night's theme.

Several fans shouted, "Rangers Must Go" and "MSG Must Go," but they obviously didn't know both had nothing to do with the Whalers leaving for North Carolina nine years ago.

Still, for the most part, Pack and Whalers fans co-existed. Most Whalers supporters stood and cheered each Pack goal. And most Pack fans joined in each rendition of "Brass Bonanza."

Two days later in Maine, a reflective Dineen was still reveling, and not only about a 5-3 victory over the Pack. He talked about dozens of e-mails he had received, including one from a Dallas man whose wife was a longtime Whalers fan. She would wear a Dineen jersey to Stars games whenever Dineen's team was in town, and flew to Hartford for the nostalgic night. He also heard from the man whose grandmother had knitted the Whalers sweater that Dineen's 2-year-old son Declan had worn during the ceremony.

"How often do you see stuff like that?" Dineen said. "It wasn't just the ceremony, it was the class the Wolf Pack showed. The get-together afterward was like a wedding. My relatives, Ronnie's relatives and Ulfie's friends were all just raving about it."

Dineen and Francis said - with all due respect to the Pack - that having another NHL team in Hartford would be wonderful. Francis, who will have his No. 10 retired by the Carolina Hurricanes Jan. 28, hinted he might be part of a new franchise if Howard Baldwin, who brought pro hockey to Connecticut, was involved in the comeback bid.

Now if some of the fans on hand showed up more often to demonstrate a true hockey presence in the area, and Baldwin and Hartford real estate magnate Larry Gottesdiener can somehow form a working bond, the dream might become reality.