Why the Whalers Left Connecticut

Could the NHL be heading back to Connecticut?

Last month, Governor Malloy said that the state was in touch with groups interested in bringing an NHL franchise to our state.

That got me thinking. Why did the Whalers, Hartford’s home hockey team for over 20 years, leave Connecticut to begin with?

Let’s take a look back at the history of Connecticut’s NHL team.

The Whalers did not originally play in Connecticut, but they did spend most of their existence in Hartford. The team started as the New England Whalers in Boston, where they played at the Boston Arena and Boston Garden. The Whalers struggled to schedule games at the Garden, an arena they shared with rival Boston Bruins. In 1974 they decided to relocate to Connecticut, where there were no competitor teams.

The team got its own arena at the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum in 1975. In 1979 they left the World Hockey Association and joined the National Hockey League, which they played in while in Hartford for the next18 years.

The team had its highs and lows. In 1994, the Connecticut Development Authority sold the team for $47.5 million to Peter Karmanos, CEO of the Michigan based software company Compuware. The new owner had high hopes for bringing the team to victory and promised to keep the team in the state for the next four years.

That promise was not kept for long.

In 1996, attendance was low and the team was struggling. Karmanos said if the team could not sell at least 11,000 season tickets, he would move them out of Connecticut. Ticket sales were slow at first, especially when smaller season ticket packages were eliminated, but fans gathered together to “Save the Whale” and the Whalers announced they would remain in Connecticut until at least 1997.

Another controversy gripped the team in 1997. The Whalers wanted a new arena in Hartford, but many people did not support using taxpayer dollars to fund the new project. Negotiations between Karmanos and Governor Rowland over the $147.5 million arena eventually fell apart.

The Whalers left Hartford after the 1997 season and headed to North Carolina. With a new name (the Carolina Hurricanes) and a new home, the Whalers were done with Connecticut.

So today, with rumors that major professional hockey might be on its way, we have to answer a few questions first. Is there enough of a demand for hockey today? Are there still fans in Connecticut? Is the investment worth it?

If the NHL comes back to Connecticut, we need to understand what we should do differently to make sure our team does not slip away again.

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Steven January 09, 2014 at 06:09 PM
A big factor was left out of this: Rowland's attempted deals with the Patriots. Remember how Rowland was going to bring the Patriots to Hartford and build a brand new dome stadium for them? Look how that turned out. Leadership in Hartford has a big role in keeping a team. Obviously private ownership should be the main financial supporter of a team, but endorsement from Hartford has a role. Instead of focusing on the pro team that Hartford already had and the culture that came with it, Rowland failed in his attempt to bring in the Pats while the Whale packed their bags and took the next one-way ticket to Charlotte. Say what you want about Malloy, but he could be the one to take big steps towards bringing Pucky the Whale out of the unemployment line. Whalers merchandise sells like crazy, and Whalers fans are planning group trips to Long Island for "mini-takeovers" of Islanders games. Build it, and they will come. The Whalers outdrew the Bruins in attendance a few seasons during their existence, and they could absolutely do it again.


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