Tonight the Hartford Whalers return to the National Hockey League.
Sure, the game may be in North Carolina instead of at a Connecticut shopping mall, and yes it’s mostly just some other team wearing Whalers clothing, but by golly, this is the closest we’ll ever get to seeing the Whale return to the ice and I’m incredibly excited for it to happen.
Christmas arrives two days early in 2018, and the Carolina Hurricanes are giving us uniform fans the greatest gift of all this year. At 5 p.m., the Hurricanes will take to the ice wearing the green, white, and blue uniforms of the Hartford Whalers, the team the Hurricanes once played as before they relocated to North Carolina in 1997.
The uniform tonight is the same design worn by the Whalers from 1985-89, and again for one more season in 1991-92. It’s Hartford’s old road uniform design, green base with the white version of the Whalers famous/iconic/epic logo on the chest trimmed in blue; five alternating white and blue horizontal stripes at the waist and three angled stripes on each sleeve. A nod to the Hurricanes current identity is included in the inside collar; the team added the storm warning flag pattern re-coloured to match the Whalers look.
In addition to the sweet retro uniforms, Hartford’s divisional rival, the Boston Bruins are in the building. Whalers mascot Pucky the Whale will be roaming around the stands, their old theme song Brass Bonanza (yes, the Whalers had a theme song!) will play during the game. Former Whalers players such as captain Mike Rogers will be on hand to drop the ceremonial first puck and sign autographs for fans before the game, and the first 10,000 fans entering PNC Arena get a fancy commemorative “Whalers Night” poster.
Am I stuck in some wonderful dream? Please don’t wake me up.
Do understand that I’m not from Hartford, and aside from a drive from Boston to New York during a family road trip four years ago I’ve never even been to the city. So my enjoyment of this game is purely from just seeing that uniform, hearing that song, seeing that mascot again for the first time in over two decades. Someone who grew up in New England as a bonafide Whalers fan may feel slightly differently about this event. I get that.
For what it’s worth, the Hurricanes will be donating a portion of the proceeds from their in-game auction featuring Whalers items held during the game to a Learn to Play program at the Champions Skating Center in Hartford. The Champions Skating Center’s Learn to Play hockey day, free to all participants, has been delayed due to the lack of equipment and resources. Money raised for the program will be utilized to purchase equipment, such as beginner sticks and helmets.
The Hartford Whalers started life as the New England Whalers in the World Hockey Association in 1972 playing their first three seasons in Boston before moving south to Hartford in 1974. The logo during their WHA days was different from what we’ve all come to know and love, green-and-yellow with a harpoon over a green W the Whalers wore this logo on their home and road jerseys for their entire time in the World Hockey Association.
In 1979 the Whalers, along with three other WHA teams (the Oilers, Nordiques, and Jets) joined the National Hockey League officially as expansion teams, with the shift and with another New England based team already in the NHL the club changed their name to Hartford and adopted their now-famous logo.
When Peter Good started to design the new logo for the Whalers, the only precedent he had to work with was that old New England Whalers logo which, as mentioned earlier, featured an actual harpoon, the likes of which actual people use to kill actual whales. While overall sensibilities may have been much different then, this still caused some conceptual problems. For obvious reasons, Good wanted to take a completely different approach.
“There’s a conflict with using harpoons and your mascot is a whale,” Good told SportsLogos.Net in an interview back in 2014. “Harpoons are symbolic of killing whales, so you’re really expressing the idea of killing your own mascot. So I said, let me see if I can do something more positive.”
“I did a version, it had the negative H in the W, but instead of the whale’s tail, it had harpoons working with it. And [team owner] Howard Baldwin actually chose it. He said ‘I like that one.’ I said ‘Why do you like that one?’ He said, ‘Because it has the H for Hartford,’ and I said, ‘Wait a minute. That was not a requirement. That was just one that I tried. Now that I know that, give me some more time.'”
From there, Good and Baldwin eventually created the logo which currently sits third amongst the top-rated primary logos on this site, when probed during interviews to reveal my all-time favourite logos I always list the original Hartford Whalers. I never get any pushback on that (in 1997, however, I certainly would have).
“(The logo) is so unusual in its purity and pure design,” Good said, “there’s no angry whale, no aggressive whale showing its teeth or whatever like so many sports icons. It’s a logo that I don’t think would ever happen again today.”
Following tonight’s game, the Whalers uniforms will get put back into the closet once again, this time there will be no 21-year wait to see them again as the Hurricanes will wear them on the road when they travel to play in New England at Boston, the former home of the Whalers, facing the Bruins on March 5, 2019.
The Bruins will wear their modern-day road white uniforms for the game despite it being a home contest for them (a shame we couldn’t get them also to wear their 80s uniform but nobody will be looking at the B’s for any of these games anyway). With Boston located just an hour-and-a-half away from Hartford it gives original Whalers fans a chance to come “see their team” in person once again. Most of these fans, I’m sure, will be taking the rare opportunity to bring their children, some of whom old enough to be out of college now, to watch their former team with their kids for the first and probably only time in their lives.
To this I say, welcome back Whalers. I missed you. Please feel free to come back again as often as you wish.
Paul Caputo contributed pieces of this article via his story on the history of the Whalers logo in 2014