Review by Budd Bailey
How many books about the history of the Hartford Whalers are needed, especially if you don’t live in Central Connecticut?
You’d think one would be enough. But now we have two.
“Bleeding Green” follows on the footsteps by about a year of “The Whalers,” a 2021 release. Luckily for us, both of these books cover the subject quite well.
To recap (again), the Whalers first entered pro hockey as Boston’s team in the World Hockey Association in 1972. It didn’t take long to realize that that part of the world was rather stuffed with pro hockey, so the team packed and moved about 90 miles to land in Hartford. They were the only team from the United States to survive the merger of the WHA with the National Hockey League in 1979. It’s worth noting that of the four teams that completed that move, three of them wound up moving to American cities. Only Edmonton has stayed put.
The Whalers had their ups and downs during a run in Hartford that lasted until 1997. That means they’ve been gone for 25 years, which probably explains the burst of books about them coming out of the Hartford area.
The team always was fighting an uphill battle during its time in Hartford. It was jammed between New York and Boston in New England, and had trouble getting attention. The arena was on the small side – at least when its roof stayed up – and it often wasn’t filled with spectators. A playoff series win might have started some positive momentum, but that never came even though it was close enough to touch in a few cases.
There are a few ways to tell a story about a defunct team. Here author Christopher Price relies mostly on interviews to tell the story of the team, although basic research about the Whalers’ play is on display throughout. Price tracked down several people connected with the team. It’s somewhat striking in hindsight how many people seem to truly enjoy their time in Hartford. This may be because of a theory that we often apply to Buffalo – it’s a great place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there. In other words, the Hartford area was a good spot to raise a family. Those connections include players, coaches, front office members, reporters and fans. In other words, Price cast a rather wide net for input, and it works pretty well. There are some good stories told along the way that really elevate the book quite a bit. A book such as this really doesn’t need to be bogged down in stats at the expense of the human element.
It all serves as something of a reminder that running a pro sports team is something like walking on a tightrope. It doesn’t take much to fall off into the abyss of the standings – a bad coaching hire, a bad trade or two, a bit of luck on the ice, and so forth. We shouldn’t be influenced by the fact that the Whalers moved to Carolina; we should be impressed that they stayed for so long against some long odds.
The Whalers do live on in some ways, of course. Their booster club at last report was still active, and the team’s logo is still sold relatively briskly on merchandise. In addition, there’s the team’s fight song called “Brass Bonanza.” That probably was the team’s biggest export, as it no doubt is serving as a ringtone on phones across the country.
“Bleeding Green” worked a little better than “The Whalers” for me because of the people-oriented approach of the author. But the difference isn’t too great, and you can’t go wrong either way – especially if you remember the Whalers well. It’s nice to see such teams are honored in such a way.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)