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Howard Baldwin's Dream: Return of the Hartford Whalers

Rick Green

June 02, 2010

Haven't we left this tattered Whaler dream behind?

We're done with folks getting misty-eyed about the hopelessly mediocre Hartford Whalers and restoring hockey greatness and that spunky 1980's spirit to Connecticut. Right?

Except I find it impossible not to love former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin's corny dream -- and I could care less about the NHL. At a Rentschler Field press conference Wednesday, Baldwin shared his ebuillent vision to restore Hartford to its rightful place in the hockey cosmos and make Connecticut feel excited about our own backyard.

Sure he desperately wants an NHL team again, but as Baldwin told me Wednesday, "we have to get people talking about Hartford again.''

There's a 10-day "Whalers Hockey Fest" planned for Rentschler next February,a brilliant idea featuring outdoor hockey at all levels. Maybe I'll pass on the Whaler reunion and "fan fest" this summer, but good for Baldwin for starting a long-term hockey revival plan.

It's a tall order. Fan and corporate support is questionable. NHL executives loathe Hartford. It's lunacy to use public money to pay for construction of a pro-sports arena.

The burly Baldwin, a Whalers co-owner in the glory days of the 1980s, isn't dissuaded. "I'm a sentimentalist,'' he said. "It's putting things back where they should be."

That sort of optimism is more than we're getting from our gloomy, self-absorbed political leaders. Aside from fourth-and-long gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, I didn't see a single prominent elected leader or anyone from the Rell administration at the Rentschler gathering. How pathetic.

Laugh if you want, but is anyone else moving back to this erroding state with a grand plan and a long-term promise to do something magnificent for its premiere city?

At Rentschler Wednesday, Whale die-hards showed up in their game-worn sweaters to hear Hartford hockey legend Kevin Dineen say he was happy to again catch "a little of that Whaler buzz." Retired sportswriters listened to former TV newsman Pat Sheehan promise that "this is not nostalgia." Car salesman Brad Hoffman stood up to say that his life is "family, God, Hartford and hockey."

I don't know about all that, but I can't help but root for Baldwin, a successful Hollywood movie producer, who has returned to say he's got another fight in him.

"I started this franchise,'' Baldwin said. "It means a lot to me on a personal level.''

In a state sorely lacking dreamers, let's appreciate the unexpected gift of Howard Baldwin.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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