by David F.P. [Modest Image Gallery]
HARTFORD, CT- It had been rumored to occur for months, but the news finally came down Monday night that the Hartford Wolf Pack would eventually be changing their brand identity to more align with the team that used to make the Hartford Civic Center (now XL Center) home. Howard Baldwin announced that his group would be taking over everything but hockey operations regarding the Hartford Wolf Pack franchise, however the official switch in name/branding would not occur until later in the season. At that point the team will be known as the Connecticut Whale.
The evening began with many in the Connecticut media intermingling with VIPs and the fans that clustered in the XL Center atrium. Many were clad in Hartford Whalers jerseys from various eras, whether it be WHA, the eighties or the modern jerseys of the nineties. They had names like Howe and Nikolishin and others, and an equal number of Wolf Pack jersey clad fans made their appearance. Soon the whole lot was directed into the arena itself where the podium was set up at one end of the vacant floor, the boards were set up, but no ice to be found. The press filed into the floor, while dozens of fans filled the seats. Soon the presser began and Baldwin took the microphone.
It seemed clear that Baldwin wished to avoid adding the moniker of “Hartford Whalers” to the AHL team for likely a variety of reasons, but it now creates a transition brand that can bridge the old and the new. This is not unusal in pro sports. After all, the Pawtucket Red Sox “Paw Sox” are a variation of Red Sox, and there are countless other examples. It just so happens in this case the Whale will be still serving as an affiliate to the New York Rangers. Baldwin did not provide details in the public presser but he did mention an AHL game will be played during the Hartford Whalers Hockey Fest in February at Rentschler Field which is news as that had originally not been on the original schedule.
Baldwin tied the discussion fo the hockey team to revitalizing downtown Hartford. He also announced the new color scheme when unveiled will both pay homage to the Hartford Whalers but also to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He also thanked the fans of both the Whalers and the Wolf Pack and hoped they would become fans of The Whale. He also stated a bold hope that the XL Center would no longer need to employ the curtain that blocks off the unneeded upper level seats at games ever again.
New York Rangers President Glen Sather spoke briefly speaking of Hartford’s past as a great hockey city and noting when Edmonton came into play and the roof was blown off, leading to a relocation to Springfield. He used this as a segue to suggest the current roof will not blow off and the fans can be packed into the arena. Sather speaking less as a Rangers official and more as a part of the Edmonton Oilers franchise brought into perspective the hockey past that the Whalers were a part of.
Wolf Pack GM Jim Schoenfeld also spoke briefly of a relationship with Baldwin and AEG as well. Wolf Pack Head Coach and legend Ken Gernander noted that he had survived the entire Wolf Pack era and spoke in his words of the “evolution of Hartford hockey.” Current Wolf Pack mascot Sonar and Whalers mascot Pucky made appearances briefly bringing the assembled guests. Chuck Steedman of AEG, the XL Center’s operator also spoke of his company’s commitment to working with the team. Connecticut fixture Pat Sheehan, known for his time on Fox 61, and later with the UConn Advocates among other projects, served as emcee and noted that while Governor Rell was not present she had been in support of the franchise for some time. Sheehan also recognized UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway and pointed to the basketball team’s successes in filling the arena and the streets of Hartford. Sheehan then recognized Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra who stepped to the mic for some remarks.
“It’s a great day for Hartford,” Segarra opened with and also spoke of the metaphor of the city’s dragon boat as a metaphor for the cooperation among stakeholders in this venture. He later went onto note Hartford’s success with the Visa Gymnastics Championships and the recent appearance of Lady Gaga and hoped to see more successes. The Mayor took the opportunity to respond to the recent charge that the City of Hartford is dead and pointed to this team as an example of the city’s resurgence. He also noted offhand of the upcoming demolition of the butt-ugly building and other eyesores.
The last speaker, Oz Griebel, the longtime CEO of the Metro-Hartford Alliance, and former candidate for Governor, reiterated the role of the team in the whole framework of Hartford.
Sheehan called for questions, but the press preferred to do their one on ones and that was that. Though it was noted that tickets for the upcoming season were on sale and that was that.
Now the question becomes what form the Connecticut Whale takes and will the fans come. We’ll all just have to tune in to find out what happens. Same Whale-Time, same Whale-Channel