Hurricanes ‘Whalers Night’ a Huge Success

For a few hours on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 23, the Carolina Hurricanes wore the green gear of the Hartford Whalers. It was a night to remember, as Raleigh’s PNC Arena was nearly sold out with 17,491 in attendance. Hurricanes fans were seen in green and the sound of “Brass Bonanza” – the Whalers’ goal song – was heard five times as the Hurricanes beat the Boston Bruins 5-3.

The song, the uniforms, and even the rivalry were all throwbacks to an era long ago. Players like Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov did not grow up with the Whalers being a team in the NHL. But they played Sunday evening with an intensity that would make even the most ardent Bruins-haters proud.

Carolina Hurricanes' Sebastian Aho
Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Why the Bruins?

The Hurricanes could have lobbied the NHL for permission to wear the Whalers green against any opponent. Why did it turn out to be the Bruins? Why will it be the Bruins again when the Hurricanes don the green on the road in March? Because many the fans of the Whalers vigorously hate the Bruins, that’s why. It is a rivalry that lives on in Hartford even though the two teams haven’t played one another in decades.

The Hurricanes front office was very attuned to what is the mindset of Whalers fans, even though they have not had a team since 1997 when Peter Karmanos, majority owner of the team at that time, moved it to North Carolina. The Bruins are about an hour and a half or so away from Hartford and were a natural rival when the Whalers were there.

On June 17, 2011, Paul Doyle wrote in the Hartford Courant a reminder that Whalers fans hate the Bruins. When the Bruins were winning the Stanley Cup Finals that year, Doyle found comments from some Whalers fans that were consistent with this dislike of the Bruins.

Doyle wrote, “Still hate ’em,” Nicole Pesino of Bristol tweeted. Pesino, 35, attended her first Whalers game when she was 13 and is now a Connecticut Whale season ticket holder. Her NHL allegiance shifted to the Penguins — Ron Francis was her favorite player — but she says she still bleeds Whalers green, and her hatred of the Bruins has never diminished.”

“The Bruins were always the enemy,” Pesino said. “If the Bruins were the last hockey team on the planet, I still would not cheer for them.” (From “Whalers Long Gone, But Fans’ Hatred Of Bruins Is Not” – Paul Doyle – Hartford Courant, June 17, 2011).

It had to be the Bruins on the other side of the ice when the Hurricanes donned the Whalers’ green. The emotions of Whalers fans surely ran the gamut between being mad at Karmanos for yanking their team away, to being mad at Hurricanes majority owner Tom Dundon for daring to clothe his ‘Canes in their team’s garb, to enjoying watching those same Hurricanes smack the Bruins pretty hard in the 5-3 victory.

All in all, it was a roller coaster night of emotions for the folks in Hartford and elsewhere who still love their Whalers. And it will likely be even more emotional when the Hurricanes dress in the Whalers gear again on March 5.

Whalers Night Fun or Insensitive?

Opinions galore surfaced surrounding this game and how the Hurricanes would be dressed. Dundon told, “The motivation was primarily around [the fact that] it’s interesting, it looks great and it’s a way to do something different. It’s a long season and we’re in the entertainment business and this is going to make this night different and enjoyable and connect with fans whether it’s in Hartford or anywhere else. So, I hope they enjoy it.”

Others felt like it was a sharp stick in the eye to the folks in Hartford. Mike Anthony wrote in the Hartford Courant back in September when Whalers Night was announced, “The Hurricanes are going to skate around collecting money in the clothes that were essentially stolen from us. So be it. We can’t be red-lined with anger, can’t be fragile. Our memories belong to us and they can’t be bought and sold.” (From “Mike Anthony: Hurricanes’ Disingenuous ‘Whalers Night’ Money Grab Does Not Change Past or Impact Future in Hartford” – Mike Anthony – Hartford Courant, September 28, 2018).

Sure, there are fans in Hartford who are still reeling from having lost their team. But, it was a very fun night. The Whalers unis looked fabulous. Those in attendance had a tremendous time. And the Hurricanes won.  And there was this:

All in all, Whalers night was a huge success. Dundon, his staff and his team put together an amazing night that will long be remembered.