For 20 seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes went out of their way to establish themselves as their own entity, rather than as the successor to the Hartford Whalers. On Sunday, for the first time since moving to North Carolina in 1997, the Hurricanes will instead wholeheartedly embrace their heritage.
Last January, when Tom Dundon was introduced as the new majority owner of the Hurricanes, he made a point of acknowledging their history as the Whalers, and nearly immediately merchandise bearing the famous Whalers logo began appearing in The Eye. Next came throwback jerseys, and Sunday will be the logical conclusion of the yearlong official resurrection of the Whalers: the Hurricanes donning the uniforms last seen on NHL ice on April 5, 1997 at the Hartford Civic Center.
The only things missing are the Cooperalls.
A Whalers Night celebration would have been unthinkable even a year ago. Former majority owner Peter Karmanos is still to this day a reviled figure in central Connecticut, his spats with then-Gov. John Rowland lingering long in the minds of longtime Hartford hockey fans who will never forgive Karmanos for shipping the Whalers south three years after buying the club. Under Karmanos’ ownership, there was an unofficial but very real prohibition on anything Whalers, save for a single cameo appearance of “Brass Bonanza” in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. Karmanos went so far as to leave the Whalers’ retired numbers in Hartford, and while no Hurricanes player has worn the late Gordie Howe’s number 9, the policy resulted in the same franchise retiring a number twice: the number 2 is retired in Hartford for Rick Ley, and in Raleigh for Glen Wesley.
Even now, there is in some quarters an undercurrent of resentment that the Hurricanes are profiting off the Whalers’ legacy. But Dundon doesn’t see it that way. While, yes, the sudden run of Whalers nostalgia is a shot in the arm to the bottom line, it’s also an opportunity to market a largely-afterthought franchise to a hockey world that still holds “Brass Bonanza” and Pucky the Whale in high esteem.
The Hurricanes are not half-hearting the Whalers’ return. Pucky will sound the warning siren at the start of the game, and Mike Rogers, captain of the Whalers when they made their NHL debut in 1979 (pictured above), will drop the ceremonial first puck and sign autographs at section 108 prior to game time.
And for one night, Petey Pablo will take a backseat as “Brass Bonanza,” which was once banned by former general manager Brian Burke (because of course it was, and the fact that it was replaced with Buster Poindexter just makes it even better) during his time in charge of the Whalers, will echo throughout PNC Arena after Hurricanes goals.
Even the opponent has a Whalers tie. When the World Hockey Association began in 1972, the then-New England Whalers played their home games at Boston Garden for two seasons, sharing home ice with the Bruins in their Bobby Orr/Phil Esposito heyday. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Whalers made the move down I-84 to Hartford, and the Bruins became the Whalers’ chief rival after the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979. Additionally, when the Hurricanes made the playoffs in 1999 for the first time in North Carolina, it was the Bruins who knocked them out in six games in the first round.
If you want to get your hands on an official Whalers Night jersey, a season-ticket member presale is underway now, and jerseys will go on sale to the public when the doors to PNC Arena open at 4:00 on Sunday. Any remaining inventory after Sunday will be made available on CarolinaProShop.com beginning Monday.
Also, the Carolina Hurricanes Foundation will get involved with the festivities. From the team:
The Carolina Hurricanes Foundation will auction select game-worn sweaters and other Whalers items on Dec. 23, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Learn to Play Program at the Champions Skating Center in Hartford, CT, owned by former Whaler Bob Crawford. The remaining jerseys will be auctioned online, in-game and at Foundation events in the weeks to follow. The Foundation will also sell mystery ornaments, featuring both the Hurricanes and Whalers logos and autographed by current players, at its kiosk outside of section 129 on Whalers Night.
So enjoy yourself on Sunday, immerse yourself in the nostalgia, and celebrate the Hurricanes’ heritage - one that, finally, officially counts the Hartford Whalers as an integral component.
And a postscript from the CC crew: look, we’ve all dealt with more “your team sucks, move it back to Hartford, you hicks don’t deserve a team” than any of us would like to admit in the Canes’ 20 years in the Old North State. If you’re visiting Canes Country from elsewhere, perhaps for the first time, please keep in mind that fans of the Hurricanes have no more to do with the team leaving Hartford than Whalers fans do.
If you’re coming by to share your memories of Whalers hockey from years gone by, we welcome you and look forward to your stories, as they are a part of the fabric of our - all of our - franchise. But if you’re coming by simply to troll Hurricanes fans, we have no time for that and you will be summarily reminded that such comments are against the house rules, and will lead to comments being deleted and, potentially, suspensions.
And the reverse also applies to our CC comment-section regulars. This isn’t the time to drag the Whalers or Hartford, or to assert superiority of either our city or the Hurricanes. (Honestly, never is the time to do any of those things in the comments, but it bears repeating given the circumstances of this weekend.) Make our visitors feel welcome, not ostracized.
We look forward to Whalers Night as a chance to reminisce and celebrate the history of NHL hockey in Hartford, without which there would not be NHL hockey in Raleigh. It should be a heck of a good time; please help everyone enjoy it by not trolling the comments. Thank you kindly!