1 Civic Center Plaza
Hartford, CT 06103
University of Connecticut Huskies (NCAA)
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New England Sea Wolves (AFL)
Hartford Whalers (NHL) 1979-1997
New England Whalers (WHA) 1974-1976
Boston Celtics (NBA) 1975-1995
New England Blizzard (ABL) 1996-1998
Hartford Hellcats (CBA) ????-1995
Connecticut Pride (CBA) 1995-1998
Connecticut Pride (CBA) 1995-1998
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The Whalers have moved around a good bit throughout their history, from city to city and from league to league. They had a good run in the WHA, but the competing popularity of the University of Connecticut basketball team and a poor economy left a lot of empty seats.
The team started in Boston as the New England Whalers (WHA) in 1972, then moved to Springfield, Mass. in 1974. They moved a year later to Hartford, then back to Springfield for two years before ending up back in Hartford in 1979.
The arena has good sightlines and the video screen scoreboard has great resolution.
From the north or south, take I-91 to Trumbull Street (exit 32B) from the north or south. The Center is Six lights ahead.
From east: I-84 to exit 50 (Main Street). Bear right past Holiday Inn, left at light onto Main, right at 2 d light onto Church Street. Hartford Civic Center at next intersection.
From West: I-84 to exit 49 (Ann & High street). Right off exit onto High street, left at first light onto Church. Hartford Civic Center at next intersection.
Whalers Open at Civic Center TonightThe countdown is over.
The many years of waiting have long since disappeared.
It's now only a matter of hours.
The City of Hartford is on the major league sports map, and the New England Whalers have a home of their own.
It culminates at 7:30 tonight when the first WHA hockey puck is dropped at center ice in the two-day-old Hartford Civic Center.
And Hartford...and the Whalers...couldn't be happier. It's been a long road.
That's exactly where the Whalers have spent most of the last three month. On the road. Even their 13 games in West Springfield were away from home, only a temporary residence for a major league hockey team that awaited ever so patiently for the final touches on a new Civic Center they'll move into tonight.
The San Diego Mariners are listed as the Whalers' first Hartford foes, but most of the fans don't know it.
The 10,507 who bought tickets to assure a sellout tonight over ten days ago could care less who the Whalers are playing. They just want to be there when it happens.
Fancy words like icing, blue lines, red lines, creases, offsides...that will all come later.
Teams like the Jets, Aeros, Nordiques, Fighting Saints, Roadrunners..that will all come later, too.
And names like Abrahamsson, Swain, Fotiu, Ley, Webster, Pleau...they, too, may be unfamiliar to most patrons, but they'll be household words in only a short time.
Hartford wanted major league hockey, and it will have it tonight.
The Whalers, first-season champions in the three-year-old WHA, got off to a quick start toward their third Eastern Division title in a row.
But, problems have beset them of late, and they've been losing more than they're winning.
New England has won only two of its last eleven games, just seven of its last 20, but it still leads its division by 14 points.
The Whalers' 25 road games have had a lot to do with the recent losses, overlooking perhaps an even more important item...the Whalers' injuries.
Only five of the 21 players on the roster have managed to escape injury since Nov. 29 and 20 separate injuries have forced eleven players to miss at least one game. Many players missed a lot more than that.
But, healthy or not, winning or not, the Whalers are here.
Even thought they won't see the Civic Center for the first time until an 11 a.m. practice this morning, the Whalers are glad to be home.
It can't help but be an exciting moment when they first skate onto the one-inch glazed surface to meet the Mariners.
Let's Go, Hartford
Come on Hartford.
Suck it up. Let's get tall. Let's show 'em something.
We had a hockey team, best in the WHA. Let's keep it. We had big league basketball in our town. It went. We'll have it again. We had UConn in the Civic Center, and good boxing and high school basketball. We had ice shows, circuses, figure skating championships. We'll get every damn one of them back.
A SWIFT HARD PUNCH
From the 15th floor of the Sheraton, the incredible damage can be seen in panorama. It's impossible, at first look, not to gasp. The knees knock, and then you fall on them because no one was even hurt. And you choke, because something you love is under that pile of hopeless rubble. That realization comes like a swift gut shot, hard, and without warning.
The basketball floor is still down there, on top of the ice. But there was not a soul in the danger area when the roof collapsed.
RED SEATS IN THE WRECKAGE
Through the careless web of curled steel and clinging concrete, the grotesquely tangled yellow insulation and the scattered debris, a portion of one section of plush red seats can be seen. There had been basketball customers in some of those chairs only hours before the roof let go. Most of them had been happy fans, because both the University of Hartford and the University of Connecticut won their games Tuesday night.
Connecticut had done it against the odds, beating Massachusetts. The coliseum's last event was a happy one for the ticket buyers who supported it. They got their money's worth and they cheered and then they flipped up their comfortable red chair bottoms and went out into the storm, which was making the driving treacherous and blanketing Connecticut rooftops with wet, heavy snow.
The empty chairs were clearly visible from the Sheraton's 15th floor.
JOHNNY CESARIO LOOKED LOST
In the lobby, Johnny Cesario looked stunned and puzzled. Johnny works for the City of Hartford as concessions manager at the civic center.
"I got the call about 4:30," Johnny said. "Maxie Atwater called me at home. Maxie's a cop, and an old fighter like me. I couldn't make out what he said. I couldn't believe it. I said, 'Maxie, what the hell are you telling me?' I got up and got dressed and came down here to wait for Frank (Russo) to get back.
Russo, the Civic Center manager had been in Florida, attending a convention.
BALDWIN IN SHOCK
Howard Baldwin was in shock, too.
"Ironically," he said from Quebec, in the early afternoon, "we had just come from our most positive league meeting ever."
Baldwin is managing general partner of the Whalers and president of the World Hockey Association. The Whalers were not a good team last year. Baldwin scored one of the major shockers in sports when he made the Howe family an offer it couldn't refuse and they became a part of the community and the heart of the team.
WON'T DWELL ON SELF-PITY
And just when everything seemed so bright...
"We've built something in Hartford," he said. "We've made something over the past four years. I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to dig in and work like hell until we're back in the building. There is nobody in this organization who is not totally committed to that.
"We're not going to dwell on our own self-pity. Sure, you cry for an hour, but then you roll up your sleeves and go to work."
Visitors had unanimously praised our infant building. First-timers loved its neatness and its functional properties and the fact that there were "no bad seats." It had the big-league aura and it made us feel that way.
We beat the Russians there, remember? We bragged that the Celtics played in our baby. Jack Carlson and Nick Fotiu were the heavies in a memorable brawl there, and we displayed, for all the world, the ballerina beauty of the national figure skating championships.
Jimmy Connors raised hell and laughed about it in our sports palace in downtown Hartford. The ECACs, big stuff in college basketball, were played there.
Yesterday's palace lies today in ruins, but we're going to get it back. We tasted the good wine. We're going to order more.
Other towns will drink our wine for a while now. All right.
But Springfield, take good care of our Whalers. They're only on loan. And the cities that get our Celtics, our college basketball, our big track meets, our ice skating and the rest should be thanked, but they should also be forewarned. Don't become attached. Don't make it a love affair. It's only temporary. It's only a loan. They don't belong to you. We want them back. We're going to get them back.
Come on, Hartford.
January 18, 1978 Civic Center roof collasped because of heavy snow.
Rooting from the "Poorman's Skybox"
There are certain things people need to accept when they sit in one of the Civic Center's "Category 4" seats, a.k.a. cheap seats, bleacher seats, bargain benches, poor-man's skybox. Siberia.
First, life up here is loud -- regardless of whether the home team is ahead. And things only get louder as the night wears on, thanks in part to nail-biting ice action, (sometimes opposing) team loyalties and, of course, the steady flow of suds.
Behold, a snapshot of the Whalers/Ottawa game:
Image Courtesy of The Hartford Courant
8 p.m. (zero alcohol intake) "I want to see somebody use their body down there," comes a fan's subdued request.
9 p.m. (two beers down) "Come on already, somebody play physical. Hit 'em... . Uh, hit 'em... ." We can classify this as a somewhat repressed yelp.
10 p.m. (Let's just say this guy shouldn't be the designated driver) "Ugh! Why don't you just put that stick where the sun don't shine!"
Which brings us to the cheap seat coaches: men and women -- usually dressed in "Let's go" team jerseys -- who frequently and openly share "words of wisdom" way beyond Beavis and Butt-head's suck-filled dialogue.
Note: There are no exceptions here, not for kids, not for blue-haired grandmas, not even for the honorable Mayor Mike, who slips into his cheap seat just in time to hear a row of Whaler fans chant, "You suck! You suck!"
No, not to him. To the opposing team.
True cheap-seaters not only accept this behavior, they embrace it.
The wilder, the better.
Take for instance, these very typical scenes: Two boys, feeding off the loud techno music booming into the arena, suddenly whip off their T-shirts in a dancing frenzy. Moments later, the scoreboard features a shapely woman in a tight, white sweater moving seductively to the macarena.
In the middle of a jam-packed row, an elderly woman sitting on the edge of her seat curses at the action on the ice, mouthing words she must have warned her children a million times not to use. Catching herself, she looks aroud to see if anyone witnessed her faux pas. Too late Grandma. Now everyone knows about your wild side.
As the night rolls on and the beer lines swell, the deafening "DEFENSE!" and sing-songy "Let's Go Whalers" chants grow, the insults become more creative, the hand motions more animated.
"COME ON!" bellows a middle-aged man in tinted Saturday night fever eyeglasses and a Champion sweatshirt that not-so-flatteringly clings to his moon-shaped beer belly. "My grandma can do better than that ... and she's blind!"
Ahhhh, life in the cheap seats.
Ice show: 14,758
45 sky boxes
310 seat coliseum club
Where else can students, teachers, contractors, lawyers and political bigwigs alike engage in always loud, sometimes chaotic, borderline obscene displays of frenzied euphoria and disappointment, depending on which team is ahead?
"Sitting down there is like sitting in church," Ed Reale, a contractor from Bloomfield, says of the lower-level seats many cheap seaters not-so-lovingly refer to as the "library." "One time, I saw someone knitting down there. Can you believe it? Actually knitting at a game."
(For the record, Janice Pullman, a photographer from East Hartford, sums up quite a few of the lower-level responses to the cheap seaters' "life is better up here" claim: "That noise up there is highly over-rated.")
"This is where the real people sit, the real fans," says Jim Stopa, an accountant from East Windsor. "And the view is much better than people think." Well, sometimes.
Desperately waving a $5 bill, a fan laments his inablity to get a beer vendor's attention.
"He can't even see me," he whines.
Or maybe the vendor, who mops his face with a hankerchief, just can't bear to climb the 75 steps to sell one measly beer.
Overall, the overwhelming reason for choosing these seats is financial accessiblity, meaning at $25 ($15 with a student identifcation, although students have to purchase the ticketstwo hours in advance), the 1,192 cheap seats are affordable.
But not everyone up here is watching their wallets. In fact, many say they can afford the library seats, but choose to sit above the rink.
Jeff Mozier, a warehouse manager from Derby, and his wife, Pam, an administrative assistant, sat in the library until the personnel recruiter with the business cards and the swanky suit told them to "shut up" three years ago.
"He said he had an inner ear problem," Pam recalls, rolling her eyes.
"No way!" exclaim a couple of surrounding "loud and proud of it" cheap seaters.
"Really!" Jeff insists. "It was unbelievable."
Obviously, that rule just doesn't apply up here. Here, conversation (at any pitch) is not only welcome, it is encouraged. In fact, there is always a running commentary.
"Use your body, Malik," Jeff Mozier yells towards the ice.
"Anything but your brain, Malik, anything but your brain," someone else pipes in.
"Your wingspan, your wingspan, Malik," Mozier says, referring to Whaler defenseman Marek Malik's arm reach.
"Wingspan?" someone asks. "Is that a technical term?"
"Sorry," Mozier says, a little embarrassed at his somewhat amateurish outburst.
"That's OK, I knew just what you meant," another onlooker responds, eyes pressed against black binoculars.
And it's that understanding that seems to make life in the cheap seats work -- during most games -- with rhyme and reason.
"We're going to do the wave, alright?" Joseph Parlante, a Bryant College student from East Hartford, tells his section.
"On the count of three," he says. "One, two, three."
As if rehearsed, they all stand up and reach for the sky.
Satisfied with their cooperation, Parlante heads back to his seat.
"It's stupid to pay all that money and sit on your hands," he says, looking toward the lower level. "I mean, what's the point?"
Although, truth be told, things don't always run that smoothly.
Before female Bruins fans swooned over Whalers fan Stephanie O'Hara's rock ("Oooooooooh, yours is bigger than mine," they say, twisting and turning her engagement ring under the rink's lights.) O'Hara had to move from one cheap-seat section to another because a male Bruins fan got so irate about her Whaler loyalties he called her "honey."
No one calls her honey.
And then, there was the very unlucky Bruins boyfriend of Whalers fan, Mindy Shuch.
Minutes after the Whalers lose to the Bruins 5-4 in overtime, the University of Connecticut student points to her die-hard Bruins fan boyfriend, Brian Jones and declares:
"He's sleeping on the couch."
Courtesy of the The Hartford Courant
December 20, 1996 - The Hartford Whalers have told Gov. John Rowland they will leave unless Connecticut taxpayers build them a new arena.
The arena could cost as much as $240 million, the NHL team said in a report sent to Rowland.
"In order for the Whalers to remain in Connecticut, it is necessary that a state of the art arena facility, primarily designed for major-league hockey," be built at public expense, the report says. "The only answer is to provide a new facility, and as soon as possible."
In addition, the Whalers "will require essentially all of the operating revenue" from the new arena to compete financially with their opponents in larger markets.
Team officials said yesterday that the report is not a final demand but rather is designed to open a dialogue with the governor.
"We would point out, though, that we are not asking for anything more for the Whalers than has been standard in other communities," the team said.
Rowland has made it clear he opposes the Whalers' proposal, but has instructed his staff to continue talks with them, said Dean Pagani, a Rowland spokesman.
"It's a big pill to swallow when you're trying to run a tight budget," Pagani said. "But the governor does not want to signal that this is a deal-breaker.
"I don't think the governor views it as a ransom letter but the tone is very strong."
The Whalers' report, obtained by the Hartford Courant, says the new arena is essential for the team's financial survival because the team doesn't take in enough television revenue.
The report claims that even if the Whalers, which are currently atop the NHL's Northeast Division, sold out every game and maximized money from concessions and advertising, the team would continue to lose money at the 15,635-seat Civic Centre.
January 10, 1997 - Gov. John G. Rowland said yesterday the state will look into building a new arena for the Hartford Whalers so the NHL team can stay in Connecticut. Rowland said he made the decision after being convinced by team owner Peter Karmanos and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that the Civic Centre where the Whalers currently play is inadequate. The politicians don't want taxpayers to be on the hook, so it'll be a bond issue. The catch is this: it wouldn't be ready for at least two years, which means more dough lost for Peter Karmanos.
Under their contract with the state, the Whalers are committed to staying in Hartford through the end of next season. Karmanos, however, has been actively weighing moves to other cities, including St. Paul, Minnesota and Columbus, Ohio.
March 28, 1997 - The Harford Whalers say they can't make it in Connecticut and have agreed to pay the state a $20.5 million penalty to leave after this season, a year before their four-year commitment expires.
The team rejected the state's offer to build a $147.5-million arena and to guarantee the club projected revenues of $50 million a year.
The team wanted to play at the arena rent-free and refused to sign a lease longer than 10 years. The state, which said it has lost nearly $60 million subsidizing the Whalers in recent years, was seeking $2.5 million in annual rent payments.
The Whalers also wanted the state to cover projected losses while the arena was being built. The club estimated those losses could range from $20 million to $40 million.
Owner Peter Karmanos said he has not negotiated a deal with any other city yet.
March 31, 1997 - Whalers owner could be eyeing Las Vegas
Some insiders feel Hartford owner Peter Karmanos might also be looking at Las Vegas for his Whalers, along with Columbus. Sounds like a longshot though.
There's only the ill-equipped Thomas and Mack Arena with obstructed-view seats and the NHL wouldn't be crazy about it because of the gambling tie-in. But the city is dying for one major league pro team to call its own.
April 14, 1997 - First Quebec, then Winnipeg and now Hartford. Edmonton? It's a sad state to see the former WHA teams bite the dust.
The Whalers are going, going ... despite the fact they averaged 13,657 this season (93.2% capacity).
"The closeness of these fans with this group of players is probably No. 1 in the league,'' said defenceman Jeff Brown.
"I still believe this is the loudest support you can get in the NHL when this place is full,'' added captain Kevin Dineen, "and that's how we'll remember it.''
BALDWIN MAKES PLANS FOR HARTFORD ARENA UPGRADES
November 17, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures
Hartford, Conn. - Hockey afficionado Howard Baldwin has unveiled plans for a $105 million upgrade of the XL Center in Hartford with hopes of luring an NHL franchise back to the city, the Hartford Courant reported.
"What I like the most is updating the ambience of the place," Baldwin said of the plans. "When you walk through those doors it'll feel like an entertainment zone."
Baldwin owns an AHL team that plays in the city-owned venue. Its lease expires in 2013.
If successful, the construction would begin in 2012 and continue through 2014. The building would get a new atrium, team store, food court, restaurant and sports bar. Plans also call for new broadcast facilities, an IMAX theater and destination restaurant such as a Hard Rock or Planet Hollywood. Some $14 million would be spent in seating upgrades, including luxury suites.
The Hartford Business Journal says health insurer Aetna is throwing its support behind the project and hired the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis to do an economic impact study of the proposed project.
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