Chad Kolarik scored the game winner for the Connecticut Whale over the visiting Worcester Sharks Friday night. The Whale left-winger’s shot from the left circle with 29.5 left in overtime off the rush went over Worcester starting netminder Alex Stalock’s glove and into the upper corner giving the home team their season high sixth straight win and 19th out of 20 available points since their rebranding from the Hartford Wolf Pack on November 27th.
Friday night’s game offered the rare opportunity to have so many incredibly talented sports-writers all covering the story. My personal mentor, Bruce Berlet was there as was good friends and terrific writers, Gerry Cantlon and George Dalek. Also on hand covering the game from the Hartford Courant was their super-talented columnist Jeff Jacobs and one of the finest writers in local sports, Paul Doyle with Bill Ballou on hand covering it from the Worcester perspective.
So with so many more experienced eyes on hand, we wanted to offer our readers something a little different.
Whalers Sports & Entertainment (WS&E) reported that Friday night’s attendance was 5,307. Those who showed up saw what turned out to be a thrilling hockey game with a lot of heat between two division rivals that with each passing game are building up more and more juice between them. What those in attendance also saw a Connecticut Whale team that has found its identity, has figured out what they need to do in order to win close games consistently, patience and one thing Head Coach Ken Gernander knows and has been stressing, what it takes to win close games. The Whale are probably playing some of the best two-way hockey this franchise has seen since the team won the Calder Cup in 99-00.
The product on the ice is significantly improved and improving. But after almost a month since the switch, what’s the early prognosis on the switch? What’s it doing overall. Depending upon your point of view, the numbers may surprise you.
Howard Baldwin, Sr., has made no secret that it is his dream to bring the Whalers and the NHL back to Hartford. Like him or not, agree or disagree with what he’s after, nobody can deny that Howard Baldwin is a very smart man. The Chairman of WS&E understands all too well that to have any chance whatsoever in restoring Hartford as an NHL destination his first order of business is to reverse the years of abuse, neglect and indifference by Northland Investment Corporation under the sometimes watchful eye of Larry Gottesdiener.
The first step in that process was that the team needed desperately to be rebranded.
Baldwin could have rebranded the team with an entirely new identity altogether that had nothing to do with either the Whalers or the Wolf Pack. While that might have stepped on less toes and hurt less feelings, it was smart to build off an established brand that came with an already built in audience of disenfranchised Hartford Whalers fans. How it was handled, if there was enough consideration given to the Wolf Pack fans who had been loyal for so long, well that can be debated. But the initial response was incredible with thousands showing up to some early promotional events that the team ran. But even Baldwin will admit as exciting and encouraging as that was, the rebuilding process isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon and his group has taken just the first few steps.
To accomplish his plan and to demonstrate to the NHL Board of Governors and Commissioner Gary Bettman that the Hartford market is a vibrant and viable market for the league to put a team in, attendance has to go WAY up and stay there.
In the eleven home dates that the Hartford Wolf Pack prior to the rebranding, they drew a total of 38,123 fans or an average gate of 3,465 per game.
Since the rebranding on November 27th, the Connecticut Whale, in just six home dates, have drawn 35,107 through the turnstiles for an average of 5,851 or a 59% increase.
You want to throw out the high from both teams so as to make a more realistic sample, then the Wolf Pack drew 3,073 per game and the Whale 4,403 which is a 69% increase.
No matter how you slice it, the switch has made a gigantic difference.
What makes that even more impressive is that they are getting those kinds of numbers with a total season ticket holder base of only 400. Meaning if all 400 are showing up, then on average between groups and walkups they’re getting, again on average, 5,400 tickets sold per game.
So far WS&E has got to be highly pleased.
The question is though, is it enough?
To be fair, we went into this story thinking we were going to show that things haven’t improved all that much at all. However, it’s funny sometimes when you actually research your thoughts out how so often the actual facts have a way of changing your perspective. It hasn’t even been a month since the team was rebranded and the early indicators are the switch is working and the team is well on its way to getting numbers where it wants to be.
With the Whale reversing an early season slide and playing such strong and exciting hockey, it’s quite possible that the Howard’s dream could easily become Hartford’s reality.
Now how to build upon what’s been accomplished so far.
In terms of the actual presentation of the games isn’t all that different than it was when the team was the Wolf Pack. Damien Scott still blasts away and does his silliness. You have Pucky and Sonar walking around and that’s about it. Whatever changes that are in the presentation have been subtle at best. Seriously, apart from blasting “Brass Bonanza” at everything short of announcing the popcorn vendors, not much has changed.
For Baldwin to impress the NHL Board of Governors and Commissioner Gary Bettman it’s going to take more than that to get it done. The switch has brought some good results, that’s indisputable, but to grow this beyond the initial fascination of something new, Howard Baldwin is going to need to be creative and create a “Can’t-Miss-It” event atmosphere and so far that work has yet to begin.
The players and coaching staff are doing their part. The product on the ice is vastly superior to the way that it was prior to the rebranding. Head Coach Ken Gernander has his troops firing on all cylinders and they’re winning.
Since the switch, the team has won two shootouts, both 4-3 wins; one on opening night to Bridgeport and the other on December 4th to Worcester. They lost a shootout on December 1st to the same Sharks and have played one exciting game after another on this win streak. The team has not lost since the rebranding (7-0-0-1).
Now it’s up to Baldwin and his team to put an entertaining presentation on the ice and a significant enough promotional package together to draw in more casual fans and to excite enough people to see the kinds of numbers in attendance that will make the Howard’s “Impossible Dream” a reality.
Bruce Berlet’s COMPLETE story is only here at Howlings. The always terrific Jeff Jacobs was in the XL and filed this story in the Hartford Courant. Paul Doyle was also there from the Courant. Gerry Cantlon files a story at Eurohockey.net. Bill Ballou can be read on the Worcester perspective at Telegram.com.
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
Grachev – Kennedy – Williams
Dupont – Newbury – Zuccarello
Kolarik – Eizenman – Tessier
Soryal – Garlock – DiDiomete
Redden – Niemi
Valentenko – Kundratek
McDonagh – Nightingale
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Stu Bickel – Healthy Scratch
Lee Baldwin – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – C. Kolarik
2. CT – M. Zuccarello
3. WOR – B. Mashinter
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Geno Binda (22)
Jim Briggs (83)
Glen Cooke (6)
It’s a rare Saturday night off for the boys in the blue and green sweaters and then they’ll travel to Syracuse for a 3pm tilt with the Crunch on Sunday. Bob Crawford and the pregame are always on the air a half hour before game time.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information call (860) 548-2000.
Worcester Sharks 2 at Connecticut Whale 3 (OT) – Status: Final OT
Friday, December 17, 2010 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Worcester 1 1 0 0 – 2
Connecticut 1 1 0 1 – 3
1st Period-1, Connecticut, Tessier 5 (Niemi, McDonagh), 5:40. 2, Worcester, Irwin 6 (Cheechoo, Sullivan), 19:59 (PP). Penalties-Henderson Wor (fighting), 1:35; Nightingale Ct (fighting), 1:35; Mashinter Wor (slashing), 2:18; Mashinter Wor (fighting), 6:36; Soryal Ct (fighting), 6:36; Eizenman Ct (tripping), 12:59; Kundratek Ct (hooking), 15:21; Leach Wor (roughing, fighting), 19:04; Kennedy Ct (roughing), 19:04; Nightingale Ct (fighting), 19:04; Zuccarello Ct (interference), 19:38.
2nd Period-3, Worcester, Mashinter 6 7:13. 4, Connecticut, Williams 16 (Newbury, Zuccarello), 16:05 (PP). Penalties-Zuccarello Ct (boarding), 0:34; Wingels Wor (holding), 9:42; Mashinter Wor (holding), 14:36; DaSilva Wor (fighting), 17:25; Garlock Ct (fighting), 17:25.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Leach Wor (roughing), 6:08; Dupont Ct (double minor – high-sticking), 10:14; Nightingale Ct (delay of game), 13:46.
OT Period-5, Connecticut, Kolarik 11 (Redden, Johnson), 4:30. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Worcester 5-9-13-3-30. Connecticut 5-12-5-4-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 1 / 7; Connecticut 1 / 4.
Goalies-Worcester, Stalock 13-10-2 (26 shots-23 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 9-10-3 (30 shots-28 saves).
Referees-Geno Binda (22).
Linesmen-Jim Briggs (83), Glen Cooke (6).