May 6, 1997 marks a day that will live in infamy in the eyes of Connecticut sports fans. On that day, Peter Karmanos, owner of the Hartford Whalers, announced that he was moving the NHL team to North Carolina and renaming them the Carolina Hurricanes. Connecticut has lacked a major professional sports franchise ever since their departure, despite the efforts of Governor John Rowland to lure the New England Patriots to Hartford in 1998.
Connecticut’s only pro hockey team was founded in 1971 as the New England Whalers and played in Boston until 1974 as a member of the World Hockey Association, a professional hockey league that rivaled the National Hockey League until 1979. The Whalers moved to Hartford and played their first game in the city’s brand-new Civic Center Coliseum in early 1975, which remained their home rink for the remainder of the team’s stint in Hartford.
In 1979, the World Hockey Association merged with the National Hockey League to form the modern-day NHL, and the New England Whalers were renamed the Hartford Whalers. While the Whalers were never one of the most popular or successful NHL teams, they retained an incredibly dedicated fanbase in Connecticut — a fanbase that has waned very little in the years since the team left Hartford.
According to Reebok and other retailers, Hartford Whalers merchandise remains popular — and surprisingly profitable — not only in Connecticut but nationwide, owing to a mix of nostalgia and the strong, iconic design of the Whalers logo. Celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Megan Fox have been spotted wearing Whalers merchandise since the NHL reauthorized the use of the logo in 2009.
The idea of bringing the NHL back to Hartford remains one of the most quixotic and unshakable dreams of many a Connecticut sports fan — a dream recently bolstered following the sale of the Carolina Hurricanes to a new owner in January 2018 who reportedly wants to embrace the Hartford Whalers heritage of his team by playing certain home games in Whalers gear. Some Connecticut political candidates running for public office in recent years have claimed to make the return of the Hartford Whalers a top priority for Connecticut state pride and economic growth. Regardless of the Hurricanes’ future plans, the Hartford Whalers still remain one of the state’s most beloved bygone symbols, despite their departure many years ago on this day in Connecticut history.
“The Hartford Whalers Historical Timeline,” Hartford Courant
“Vintage photos: The Whalers Through the Years,” Connecticut Post
Nate Silver, “Is it Time to Bring Back the Hartford Whalers?” fivethirtyeight.com
Debra Rughoo, “18 years after departure, Hartford Whalers brand still a money maker,” Hartford Business Journal