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Sports Commentary 3/6/14 – The Hartford NHL Pipedream

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(Al Bello/Getty Images Sport)

(Al Bello/Getty Images Sport)

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THE “QUIXOTE CLUB” TILTS ON

I admire the Hartford Whalers Booster Club.  When the team was here the booster club was a valuable volunteer arm of the organization, helping with charitable promotions and fund raising while holding the team banner high at NHL booster club conventions.  I even commend them for keeping the dream of an NHL return to Hartford alive since the Whalers left 17 years ago.  If there is a windmill worth titling at, maybe this is it.  I admire their determination and persistence.

To this day the Whalers booster club is chartered with the NHL and members still annually attend the convention.  They continue to contribute to the charities the Whalers supported when they were in Hartford.  This week the booster club sent out a newsletter to promote it’s appearance in Hartford’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, March 15th, an annual appearance for the club, and they’re hoping the parade will attract new members, inviting everyone who shares the dream of bringing the NHL back to Hartford to march with them, wearing the Whalers colors and team paraphanalia.  Any interested parties can gather with the booster club in the state parking lot across Capitol Avenue from the Bushnell, where parking is free.

Some dreams that do come true don’t come easy and, with the last 17 years as evidence, Don Quixote had nothing on the Whalers booster clubbers.  In their newsletter they praised Governor Dannel Malloy for his recent positive comments about building a new arena and trying to lure the NHL back to Hartford.  Lost in their praise is the reality link the governor suffered in making those comments, as I pointed out here two weeks ago.  He seemed to forget there is already professional hockey in his state, with not one, but two American Hockey League teams.  Failure to understand the professional hockey landscape in his state not only will not serve the governor well in any effort to land an NHL team, it may cost him at least one of the existing two teams in the near future in a bit of juggling that may even leave Hartford with a hockey void.

The failure of much of the hockey fan base in Connecticut, and I include the Whalers booster club, to accept professional hockey below the NHL level also does little to enhance our chances of ever seeing an NHL team here again.

In Minnesota earlier this week NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about expansion.  He mentioned four potential markets.  Hartford was not one of them.  Forbes Magazine earlier this year presented a series of intriguing economic arguments why at least the next two expansions, if there are any at all, should go to Canadian markets.  Quebec City was one of the markets mentioned by Bettman.  That’s a lot of markets for Hartford to sit behind, with no arena, no commitment from the financial or fan base communities, and a governor who doesn’t understand the hockey business landscape of his own state.

Hartford Courant sports editor Jeff Otterbein asked a critical question in this morning’s edition, “Has anyone ever thought Gary Bettman was a fan of Hartford?”

Past posturing would indicate that he isn’t.  But Gary Bettman is a fan of markets that generate revenue, and if Hartford could prove it has that capability he’d love us a bunch.  But until we see real commitment from investors, government officials who understand their role in that commitment, and fans who are willing to show their support for the sport as it currently exists in this state, that’s one windmill that’s going to be very hard to knock down.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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