It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached the point where an entire generation exists in Connecticut that never saw the Hartford Whalers play hockey.  It’s been more than 16 years since the hearts of local National Hockey League fans were left shattered by Peter Karmanos’ personal agenda, and today’s reminders of a team that is now just a veiled dream come in the form of memorabilia items and gear licensed by the NHL, which has taken ownership of the franchise name from the market that nurtured it for more than two decades.

There is, however, one part of the Hartford Whalers legacy that will always belong to us, and us alone.  It’s the heartwarming logo of the UCONN Children’s Cancer Fund.  The fund, founded to aid in the research to save the lives of children with cancer, was adopted by our National Hockey League team as it’s official charity, and, to this day, the logo of the UCONN Children’s Cancer fund is the image of the hand of a young child holding the hockey glove of a Hartford Whalers player.  The child’s wrist is adorned with a hospital identification bracelet.  The bracelet bears the name Jean Marie.

Jean Marie was the grandaughter of long time WTIC Radio personality Jean Colbert.  Jean Marie Colbert was stricken with cancer at a young age.  After a long, courageous battle, during which she continued to boost the spirits of those around her, Jean Marie lost that battle at the age of eight, leaving a devestated family to search for answers, to deal with their own grief and to insure that a young life with so much promise would not have been lost in vain.

Jean Marie’s parents, Hill and Judy Colbert, established the UCONN Children’s Cancer Fund and the Hartford Whalers quickly embraced them and Jean Marie and stood firmly beside them in the battle against cancer in children with such successful annual events as the Whalers Wives Waltz for the Children. The establishment of the cancer fund led to the creation of the Jean Marie Colbert Bone Marrow Transplant Center, the ICU Nurses’ “Break Room” and a number of other additions to the UCONN Health Center designed specifically to assist other families facing the long fight the Colberts endured, insuring that many of those families would be able to celebrate the lives of children who won their battles and grew to adulthood, where they could celebrate other victories.

The Whalers left us a generation ago, but the UCONN Children’s Cancer Fund and it’s offshoots continue to this day as their official charity, every day winning new battles against a disease that is no longer as feared as it once was.

Hill Colbert, who’s tireless efforts and selfless contributions not only established the UCONN Children’s Cancers Fund, but allowed it to flourish for more than a  generation now, passed away last week.  He left us with our one lasting legacy of the Hartford Whalers.  More importantly, he left us with two lives very worth celebrating, his, and that of his beloved Jean Marie.

With a heartfelt measure of gratitude from a long time friend in the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.