Note: This is something I wrote a few years ago. It was never published and I only showed it to my Hartford friends but I thought it was time to share it again. I hope you like it. – Mike
Whistle the first eight notes of Brass Bonanza in a New England area sports bar or sporting event and I guarantee that a couple of heads will gaze in your direction with a smile. For fans of the Hartford Whalers, it’s like a college Alma matter or a couple’s favorite song, hearing it conjures up memories of good times and old loves. Gordie Howe, Kevin Dineen, Ronny Francis, Pat Verbeek and finishing first in the Adams Division in 1986-87. Pieces of history from a team the people of Connecticut still bleed green for.
Even though the Whale is gone, the team’s official theme music provides an instant touchstone for their fans. It’s on their computers, it’s their phones ring tone and it’s even been played at Fenway Park in celebration of home runs on Connecticut day. The cheesy, up-tempo, orchestral piece remains cherished link to the team they never stopped loving even after it left for North Carolina nineteen years ago.
As a Bruins fan, hearing Brass Bonanza usually meant Ray Ferraro just went shelf on Andy Moog in the Civic Center. But I still had a soft spot for the Whale. Somewhere in my parents scrap books there is a hockey card of their 10 year old sporting a haircut that should have required a child services intervention on the front and Mike Liut listed as his favorite player on the back. I’m sure I wasn’t the only B’s fan that wished Kevin Dineen found his way into black and gold nor was I the only one hoping they would knock off the Habs in ’86. I remember being shocked when the move south was announced, but never experienced the profound loss or sadness that engulfs their unquestionably devoted fans still to this day.
A casual observer might question why a team that was historically average at best would still be mourned by its fans. How could a team that was plagued by poor management, played in a sub-par arena/mall and never won anything significant, still inspire such fierce loyalty? With Boston and New York teams surrounding them, why wouldn’t Whalers fans just get over it and root for the Bruins, Rangers or Islanders?
The answer is a simple one.
In a state where sporting loyalties are usually stratified by proximity to New York or Boston, the Whalers were a unifying beacon. They were the one team that belonged to Hartford and Connecticut truly and completely. As a good friend of mine told me “They were just a mediocre team….but they were OUR mediocre team.”
That is why the Whalers are still sorely missed by their fans. In simply just existing, the Whale gave its fans an identity all their own. To be a fan of the Whale and to bleed green meant you didn’t have to lease your sports allegiances to Boston or New York. The Whale was their team and every goal, win and accomplishment was theirs alone. Gordie, the Adams Division title, the three game sweep of the Nordiques, Scot Kleinendorst one punching Cam Neely, Kevin Dineen, barreling around hall of famer Larry Robinson to win game 6 of the 1986 Adams Division Finals in OT against Montreal.
Those moments will always belong just to Whalers fans.
Nineteen years ago today was the last time the Hartford Whalers played in the NHL. Tampa Bay Lightning at the Hartford Whalers: a game between a town that was losing its hockey team, and a town that never should have had one in the first place. With the game tied 1-1 going into the third period the one man who never abandoned the Whalers delivered for a final time:
:24 Dineen (19) from Cassels and Sanderson.
Kevin Dineen ensured that Brass Bonanza played the final time the Whalers were on the ice. The team’s anthem was both a celebratory salute to a gritty 2-1 victory, and a heartbreaking tribute to a team that just ended its final season. Nineteen years later, Whalers fans love for their team, like the song that represented them, remains the same.
Long Live the Whale.
Cue the music.
P.S. I found that old hockey card. It was in my father’s personal stash of family keepsakes when he passed away. Be it your team or your loved ones, life is about holding on to cherished memories. Cheers.