Today in 1975, Hartford became home to a professional hockey team for the first time as the New England Whalers played their inaugural home game at the brand-new Hartford Civic Center.
The Whalers had been organized in 1972 as one of the first teams of the World Hockey Association, an upstart professional hockey league that sought to rival the National Hockey League. For the first two years of their existence, the New England Whalers called the city of Boston home, but team owner Howard Baldwin quickly became frustrated with his team playing second fiddle to Boston’s other professional sports teams when it came to scheduling home games in the city’s sports arenas and sought to move the team elsewhere.
The city of Hartford, which was then constructing a new downtown arena, appeared to be a perfect choice, with only one drawback: the new Civic Center wouldn’t be complete until halfway through the Whalers’ third season. As a result, the New England Whalers played the first half of the season “at home” in Springfield, Massachusetts before making their debut appearance at their new permanent home at the Hartford Civic Center on January 11, 1975. That night, in front of a sellout crowd of over 10,000 enthusiastic fans, the New England Whalers beat the San Diego Mariners 4-3 in a thrilling overtime game.
In 1979, when the World Hockey Association folded and merged with the NHL, the New England Whalers were one of only four WHA teams to survive the merger intact, although objections over the team’s “New England” label from the NHL’s Boston Bruins forced the franchise to rebrand itself as the Hartford Whalers. The Whalers played in Hartford for a total of 22 years before they were moved to North Carolina in 1997 and renamed the Carolina Hurricanes. Today, even though the team has been defunct for decades, the Hartford Whalers retain an active and passionate national fanbase, and according to sports merchandise sales, the Whalers remain one of the most popular defunct team brands in the United States.
A legendary hockey team found its home in Hartford, today in Connecticut history.
“Timeline: Tale of the Whale,” Hartford Courant
“Gallery: The New England Whalers,“ Hartford Courant
Debra Rughoo, “Over 18 Years After Departure, Hartford Whalers Brand Still a Money Maker,” Hartford Business Insider