Connecticut WhaleBy Brittany Burke

Whalers alumnus Scott “Chief” Daniels isn’t returning to Hartford this month as just an alum, waiting to take on his former rivals, the Boston Bruins in the “Whale Bowl”. He is traveling to Hartford to be a player, coach and fan.

“I’ve always been a Whaler, ever since I was a kid who was drafted into the organization,” said Daniels. “I still live in Springfield, and to me being a Whaler drafted as a Whaler was everything and anything I ever wanted in life, and now to actually get a call and come back and play a game of this magnitude just kind of makes me feel humble.”

With a daughter playing outdoors at Rentschler Field on Feb. 12 and his junior hockey team taking on the Hartford Junior Wolf Pack, Daniels gets to experience the outdoor Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 event from on the ice, behind the bench and from the stands.

“Her school is going to play the Choate Prep school, so it will be a good event for me to be on the other side (as a fan), be on the ice, and our junior hockey team, the Springfield Pics, are going play the Hartford Wolf Pack so I’ll be on the bench too at one point,” said Daniels. “I’ll ask the Zamboni driver if I could take a couple turns, then it’ll be a complete cycle. I’ll be an expert outdoorsman after that.”

Daniels was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in 1989 out of the WHL and divided his time between Hartford and Springfield, where he remains to this day.

Twelve years after his retirement in 1999, the Saskatchewan native is returning to the first home he had in the NHL, for the Whale Bowl and Hockey Fest.

The return to Hartford is more than just a game for Daniels, it is a time where he can reconnect with old teammates and revisit the city that gave him his start.

“You kind of lose contact a little bit, but for me to go back and play with Mark Janssens is probably like a top ten event because we played junior hockey back in Canada…so we knew each other before we had come up through the pro ranks and we played against each other in pros and we played with each other with the Whalers,” said Daniels. “We were linemates, and now to come back after it’s all said and done we’ll probably pick up right where we left off ten, eleven years ago.”

Daniels didn’t truly get his hockey career started until he was ten years old. After a bad experience on skates when he was seven, Daniels swore off the game of hockey, until his father encouraged him to give it one last try. With a new pair of skates on his feet, Daniels fell in love with the game he once abandoned and never looked back.

In a nation where hockey reigns supreme, there was no escaping the game. Once he found his passion in hockey it encompassed his life. Not only did the Chief play, but his parents played, his two brothers played and his sister played. The family played in the driveway, in the house and on the ice.

That love carried through, and in 1989 he was drafted and brought into the Whalers’ organization. His first NHL game was against the Boston Bruins in the old Garden, making it fitting that he would make his Whalers comeback facing the black and gold, this time on his home ice.

After a glimpse of the NHL against the likes of Ray Bourque, Daniels was returned to Springfield, where he continued to hone his game for the next couple of seasons.

“For me, being that I played in Springfield I knew the area very well so I knew the people, I knew the management and I knew the off-ice staff because I had been with the organization for years,” recalls Daniels.

“But you know, you go into Hartford rink for the first time and it’s just like an unreal thing because you don’t expect it and just the people the atmosphere the fans are pretty well die-hardish so they knew you coming off, they knew of your stats, they knew what you did in the minors, so it was like just taking another step and playing against the greatest players on earth, and the organization was absolutely wonderful to all us guys.”

Now as the Whalers alumni come together again to take the ice against long-time rivals, it is the chance for the players and fans to reminisce about the glory days in Hartford. It is not just a game, it is history.

For players like Daniels, it is not something that will be taken lightly. Despite the fun atmosphere that surrounds an outdoor game, one cannot forget the history of the two organizations playing or the fact that despite being known as alumni, the men on the ice remain to this day proud athletes.

“It’s gonna be fun but as a professional athlete you never want to lose and you never want to be outdone,” says Daniels, “so I think there’s some pride in there that will come out as with any other sport when you’re playing against athletes at a top level… It’s still a classic matchup of the Whalers and the Bruins, no matter what the age is there’s still a little bit of pride in there.”

The Whalers and Bruins legends will take the ice for the Whale Bowl on Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. prior to the CT Whale AHL game against the Providence Bruins.

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