As a Hartford -born writer and Hartford Whalers fan, I figured I’d take some time during the very slow summer period of NHL news to write about how my fellow Nutmeggers and ex- Whalers are doing in the NHL.
While I myself never got past playing 2nd or 3rd line right-wing over years of various low-level Connecticut Beer League games, these guys are-and have been-living the dream. And while the Hartford Whalers may no longer exist, some of the players who once represented their home state while skating for them are flourishing.
And though this piece is partially focused on current NHL players, that should not discount the NHL contributions of recent former Connecticut players Chris Drury, Craig Janney, Chris Clark, and Brian Leetch.
So now we’re on to the next generation, and where to begin? How about with Los Angeles backstop Jonathan Quick? The Milford/Hamden, Connecticut native has already accumulated 176 wins on his way to two Stanley Cup Championships with the Kings.
Next up is Nick Bonino, also born in Hartford, who was the main player heading north in this summer’s blockbuster trade that sent star Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler south to Anaheim.
New Caanan, Connecticut’s Max Pacioretty was drafted by the storied Montreal Canadiens in 2007 and has since become a star for the Habs, contributing 213 points in 319 games for Les Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Now on to Colin Wilson. When I was a teenager, his dad Carey Wilson was traded to Hartford not once, but twice. The first time around the Whalers dealt Dana Murzyn and Shane Churla to Calgary for Wilson and Neil Sheehy. Which leads to some interesting, albeit irrelevant, trivia. In Hartford, Sheehy (brother to New England Whaler Tim Sheehy) became the first NHL player to wear the number zero. But I digress.
The Whalers traded Carey to the New York Rangers, who not long after traded him back to Hartford, which is why Colin is from southern Connecticut. The younger Wilson was drafted by Nashville, where he has amassed 136 points in 291 games for the Preds.
Carolina’s Ron Hainsey is from Bolton, Connecticut; mere seconds away from my hometown. And like me, Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Wayne Gretzky and others, he too skated at the ancient Bolton Ice Palace. The only difference is that those players were incredibly talented, while my ice hockey skill-set is pathetic.
In his career with Montreal, Columbus, Atlanta, Winnipeg and the Hurricanes, Hainsey has collected 207 points in 673 games while manning the blue-line.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, another Connecticut native, was a 2014 United States hockey Olympian while also playing in Missouri. The talented rearguard has 154 points in 282 games for the Bluenotes and Colorado Avalanche.
Last but not least, Riverside, Connecticut’s Cam Atkinson has accrued 72 points in 141 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
That Was Now, This Is Then
In addition to the native Connecticut skaters currently playing for the Brass Ring, there are several former Hartford Whalers working in the NHL.
Glen Wesley is the Hurricanes’ Director of Defensemen Development. His son Josh was drafted by Carolina in June. Ron Francis, known in Hartford as “Ronnie Franchise”, is his newly-minted General Manager. Robert Kron scouts for the team.
Hartford hockey hero Kevin Dineen recently joined his former Whalers’ teammate, current Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville, on the Blackhawks coaching staff. Norm MacIver is the ‘Hawk’s assistant GM and Steve Konroyd is a broadcaster for the Windy City club.
Dave Tippett is the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Don Maloney and Darcy Regier are his GM and Assistant GM respectively, while multiple-time Whalers’ MVP Sean Burke is his goaltending coach.
Ray Ferraro, Nick Kypreos and Jeff O’Neill are hockey broadcasters in Canada.
Whalers’ enforcer Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson is a broadcaster with Nashville, as is another, Kelly Chase, in St. Louis. Terry Yake also works for the Blues.
One-time Whalers captain Randy Ladouceur is an assistant coach with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.
Todd Richards is the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, while Paul Maurice holds that same position with the Winnipeg Jets.
Dean Evason is the head coach of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. His boss is former Whaler Paul Fenton.
Marc Bergevin is the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
Doug Jarvis (who while in Hartford set the NHL record for consecutive games played) and Doug Houda are assistant coaches with the Boston Bruins. Brad Shaw holds that same position in St. Louis, as does Ulf Samuelsson in Manhattan, Dave Barr in New Jersey, James Patrick in Dallas and John Stevens in Los Angeles. Nelson Emerson also works for the Kings.
Pat Verbeek is an assistant to General Manager Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay. The latter, a Detroit legend, was passed on by Hartford in the 1983 NHL Draft so that the Whalers could select Pierre Turgeon’s brother Sylvain. Sly was drafted #2 overall, one slot ahead of another future former Hartford Whaler, Brian Lawton. Too, like Yzerman is now, Lawton once was the Lightning’s GM.
Former Whalers Michael Nylander’s and Sami Kapanen’s sons were both drafted into the NHL in the 1st Round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
Randy Cunneyworth and Eric Weinrich work for the Buffalo Sabres.
Jeff Reece, Mark Greig and Jack McIlhargey are in the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
Brendan Shanahan is the President of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There is an iconic photograph, published by the Hartford Courant in 1997, depicting Hartford’s newly-acquired defenseman Steve Chaisson looking somber in the locker room after it was announced that the Whalers would be leaving town. Chaisson passed away in 1999, but he’ll always be remembered here for caring that this market was about to lose the team he had just been traded to. His sons Michael and Ryan are also hockey players.
Francis, Shanahan, Gordie Howe, Mark Howe, Bobby Hull, Paul Coffey and Dave Keon are NHL Hall of Famers who played for the Hartford Whalers. Another Hall of Famer, Emile Francis, was their General Manager.
An honorable Hartford mention goes to Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy. Roy, a Quebec native, never played for the Whalers. And in fact he, and arguably he alone, was primarily responsible for denying Hartford a Stanley Cup in 1986 and playoff advancement during the last year the team reached them, 1992.
But after shutting out the Whalers one night while playing for the Colorado Avalanche, he spoke perhaps the kindest words offered up regarding Hartford after it was announced they were moving. Thank you, Patrick. You repeatedly broke our city’s collective hearts, but the sincerity of your sentiments are not forgotten around here. You are forgiven. Claude Lemieux, on the other hand…
Recently there have been rumors swirling around that the NHL may seriously be considering a return to Hartford. Whether or not that will occur remains speculation. What is not speculation though is that the state of Connecticut has made its mark on the NHL now and for all time, and will continue to do so.
And if the Whalers do return, should some of their alumni currently toiling for other squads decide to reunite here, Hartford could conceivably assemble one of the greatest front offices and coaching staffs, like, ever.
Of course while I’m dreaming I might as well try and dream up a turkey grinder and french fries, too. I mean, it is almost lunchtime.