Tag Archives: Garry Swain

BRUCE BERLET REPORTS – THE BUSINESS OF WHALE HOCKEY

BY: Bruce Berlet

The Connecticut Whale is the focus of Whalers Sports and Entertainment’s business game, and the brainchild of former Hartford Whalers owner and managing general manager partner Howard Baldwin is making a major push to improve its position for its first full season and in the hockey world.

WSE has doubled its season ticket staff from three to six and added Dean Zappalorti and Jenna Miller-Wassell to oversee corporate sponsorships while working with former Whalers center Garry Swain.

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FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

bruce mug shot 1By Bruce Berlet

EAST HARTFORD, CT. – Howard Baldwin resembled a father with a new son.

It seemed so appropriate considering he and son Howard Jr., former New England Whalers center Garry Swain and Connecticut Whale mascot Pucky christened the new rink in Rentschler Field with a ceremonial first skate and puck drop, signifying the official opening of the historic “Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest.”

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MORE ADDED TO WHALEFEST

Whale Bowl

BILL BENNETT, JEFF BRUBAKER, NORM BARNES AND GARRY SWAIN ADDED TO PLAYER ROSTER FOR WHALERS VS. BRUINS LEGENDS GAME AT OUTDOOR HARVEST-PROPERTIES.COM “WHALE BOWL” FEBRUARY 19

Legends Game Precedes Outdoor AHL Battle between the CT Whale and Providence Bruins at Rentschler Field

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FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

By Bruce Berlet

HARTFORD, Conn. – Howard Baldwin peered down from the XL Center’s directors suite at an arena three-quarters full and broke into a wide smile.

“It’s a big night and a big step, but just one of many to come,” said Baldwin, the chairman and CEO of Whalers Sports and Entertainment. “It’s like a chapter, a big chapter of a journey that will continue.”

Baldwin, the former owner and managing general partner of the World Hockey Association’s New England Whalers and National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers, has spent 10 months working toward trying to revitalize the local hockey marker in hopes of bringing the NHL back to Hartford.

It has been anything but an easy road, but when the Connecticut Whale, the rebranded name of the former Hartford Wolf Pack, skated onto the ice for the first time to the revived strains of “Brass Bonanza” and cheers of 13,089, a major hurdle has been cleared.

“It sure has been a road with a lot of speed bumps,” Baldwin said as the Whale made their debut against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. “But I guess we’re being tested to show that we really want it. I don’t know how you could possibly take over a team under more difficult circumstances, and that’s what makes this so much more rewarding.

“If you look at the nights where we’ve had a good date, like on Saturday night, we’ve done very well. We just have to get through this season, build up to the 7-to-10,000 (fans) on a more consistent basis, and then next season we’re do a lot more, believe it, because we’ll have time to lay down a base.”

Baldwin & Co. had hoped to take over the business operations of the Wolf Pack in the summer, but extended negotiations with Northland, AEG and Madison Square Garden prevented WS&E from assuming control until 21/2 weeks before the Wolf Pack began their 14th season on Oct. 8.

“The way it’s done now, you start selling in February for next season,” Baldwin said. “You lay your season ticket base down and your plan base down, and then the schedule comes out in August and you lay out your promotions and group sales for the first half of the season. We missed all of that this year.

“And I can guarantee we’ll have a better schedule next year. People have to have some compassion. It’s one thing to have 25 percent of the schedule in the first five weeks, but then a game on Super Bowl Sunday? Come on. But I just want to get the opening done, get these two games under our belt (the Whale hosts Adirondack on Sunday at 5 p.m.), and then we’ll attack a few other issues.

“The biggest thing is getting as many fannies in the seats as we can and lay a base for next year, when we will have had a full year the way normal teams are run. Then I think we’ll do what we’re doing tonight on a fairly regular basis.”

Among those on hand for the Whale’s grand opening was Baldwin’s 93-year-old mother, Rosie, who was in from Maine and watched from the executive suite. And six former Whalers – Garry Swain, Doug Roberts, Yvon Couriveau, Norm Barnes, Gerry McDonald and captain Russ Anderson – spent more than an hour signing autographs in the XL Center atrium that had thousands of fans in a serpentine line 90 minutes before the opening faceoff. Then the six participated in the ceremonial first puck drop.

Anderson, 55, has remained in the area since retiring from the Whalers in 1985. He took two years off and then sold cars for Richard Chevrolet in Cheshire for 20 years and is now semi-retired, working part-time for Longmeadow Motors Cars in Enfield.

Anderson attended some Wolf Pack games but couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for the birth of the Whale.

“I think this is really fantastic,” Anderson said. “To see all these fans, you can just tell the excitement is back. It’s just like when I was playing here and you’d walk in and see all the people.”

Anderson missed the Whalers Fan Fest in August because of a previous engagement and won’t be able to play with the Whalers alumni team in Hockey Fest 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 11-23 because of pending hip surgery.

But Anderson stayed in Connecticut because of how he was treated in his short stint with the Whalers, who were in Hartford from 1979 until they left for North Carolina in 1997.

“I was only here a year-and-a-half, but the atmosphere was great,” Anderson said. “And I love this town, which is half the reason why I moved back (to Southington). They have great fans and great support for the team.”

Swain began working for WS&E in corporate sales two weeks ago and is trying to drum up as much interest and support for the team as possible.

“I’ve been going everywhere, and the response has been terrific,” Swain said between autographs. “It’s great to see so many people here. It’s like the old days. There was so much community interest, and that’s what we’re trying to get back. The (players) will be going into the community even more than they have been.

“We’re trying to do all we can to get it back where it was when the Whalers were here. Who knows, maybe in three or four years, we’re be back in the NHL.”

FROM THE CREASE with Bruce Berlet

Bruce HeadshotBy Bruce Berlet

Before thanking Howard Baldwin for bringing the Whale back to Hartford and proclaiming this “Connecticut Whale Week” in the state, Gov. M. Jodi Rell had a special request: “Where’s Pucky?”

Pucky?

Who’s Pucky?

Oh, he’s the mascot of the new Connecticut Whale, who debut on the ice Saturday night at 7pm at the XL Center against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

When Pucky appeared through a doorway in the front of Rell’s office, the governor broke into a wide smile.

“I’ve entertained a lot of folks in this office over the years – dignitaries, Olympians, contestants for different shows – but I’ve never had a whale in here before,” Rell said during a 20-minute ceremony in her Capitol office Tuesday afternoon. “But the Whale is back, and as some would say, we could end that statement with a hallelujah. The fan base and loyalty to the (AHL’s Hartford) Wolf Pack has been terrific and meant a lot, but to think of all the people who have believed through the years, led by Howard, it’s wonderful to have the Whale back.

“It’s good news for the state, it’s good news for Hartford, but I think the best news is for the fans, who have been there all along. I certainly appreciate that and their efforts. I think they’ll be there in full force and be a part of making this very special.”

Because it was “such a momentous occasion,” the outgoing governor read what she believed would be one of her last proclamations declaring Nov. 21-27 as “Connecticut Whale Week.” It will culminate with the Wolf Pack officially being re-branded Saturday night with the start of the “Catch the Wave” campaign to try to revitalize the sport in the region and hopefully bring the NHL back to Hartford.

Baldwin, the former owner and managing general partner of the New England and Hartford Whalers who is now chairman and CEO of Whalers Sports and Entertainment, thanked Rell for her continued support of hockey and the Wolf Pack, who began when she was lieutenant governor and spearheaded an effort to keep the Whalers in Hartford before they left for North Carolina in 1997.

“This is a big day and another step,” Baldwin said. “I appreciate all that the governor has done for hockey in the state. We feel there is great leadership here, and we hope we can provide leadership to bring hockey back and make this the premier market that it once was.”

Baldwin presented Rell with a replica of the team’s new blue-and-green jersey with RELL on the back. It was later borrowed from her so the Whale could add Rell’s favorite number, 24. Baldwin also presented Rell with several bags of groceries, which were among the first donations to the Governor’s Care and Share Program for FoodShare in which food is collected for the less fortunate for the holidays.

Then the talk returned to the re-branding of the Wolf Pack, who will play their 1,177th and final game Friday night at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport against the Sound Tigers. The Wolf Pack have a 571-346-66-49-29 regular-season record and were 57-58 in 22 playoff series, winning their only Calder Cup title in 2000.

Saturday night will usher in the Connecticut Whale era, then, in a touch of irony, John Paddock, the man who coached the Wolf Pack to the only professional title in Hartford’s 35-year hockey history with Wolf Pack/Whale coach Ken Gernander as his captain, will be behind the Adirondack Phantoms’ bench Sunday at 5 p.m. for the second game in Whale history.

The Whale actually will make their first public appearance Friday night when the Festival of Light opens at Constitution Plaza in Hartford. Starting at 5 p.m., Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, cast members of the Hartford Stage Company’s “A Christmas Carol,” and Sonar, the Wolf Pack’s mascot, will lead a procession to Bushnell Park, passing through State House Square on the way to visitors seeing a giant Christmas tree and sipping free hot chocolate.

During the march, they will be joined by Pucky and Santa, who will be riding a Zamboni ice-grooming machine. The public is invited to walk with the group or cheer them along the route, which includes Asylum and Trumbull streets.

Saturday night, former Whalers players Garry Swain, Norm Barnes, Yvon Corriveau, Gerry McDonald and captain Russ Anderson will be signing autographs in the XL Center atrium from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. and then participate in pregame ceremonies that include dropping the ceremonial first puck. Tony Harrington, who sang the national anthem for years before Whalers games, will do the honors Saturday night after the Whale players are introduced in their new uniforms.

There also will be a new game program entitled BlueLines, and celebrities, scouts and members of the media will give their perspectives on the team during the pregame show on the Jumbotron, replacing “Coaches Corner” with Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller. The coaches will continue to give their thoughts on the pregame radio show with announcer Bob Crawford and occasionally participate in the Jumbotron discussions.

The night is presented by Xfinity, and the first 3,000 fans will receive a green Whale T-shirt. As part of the Whale segment of the season, ticket packages are available from $638 ($242 savings) for blue seats to $290 ($110 savings) for kids (any seat except blue) and yellow seats. The offer includes 29 regular-season games, one voucher for Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 11-23 and 20 vouchers for games at the XL Center. For more information, call 860-728-3366 or visit www.ctwhale.com.

Individual game tickets are also on sale at the XL Center ticket office and all Ticketmaster locations. Tickets also can be charged by phone at 1-800-745-3000 or online at www.ctwhale.com. Tickets start at $7 at the XL Center ticket office on game day. For information on Whale ticket packages, group sales or VIP packages, call 860-728-3366.

Baldwin said he would like to see the first Whale game sell out, but he set a target to beat of 10,507, which was the capacity of the original Hartford Civic Center before the roof collapsed on Jan. 18, 1978. Anything approximating that would be a vast improvement over the Wolf Pack’s average crowd of 3,466, which ranks 25th in the 30-team AHL.

“I’m feeling very optimistic that you’re going to see a nice five-figure crowd,” Baldwin said. “We certainly should do 10,595 and more on Saturday night.”

Baldwin said fans “will feel like they’re stepping back in time and hear some music that is familiar,” referring to the return of the Whalers’ legendary theme song, “Brass Bonanza.”

“What we want to focus on is the presentation of the product,” Baldwin said. “It’s our team, and we want the people to focus on winning and losing. When the team isn’t doing well, go ahead and get mad at us. And if it’s doing well, I hope the fans will be happy.

“No excuses, but we’re getting into this late. A lot of things that we want to get done will get done over the next five-six months as opposed to this quickly. But I don’t think you’ll be displeased. You’ll be happy.”

The Wolf Pack/Whale (6-11-2-2) has struggled most of their 14th season because of a lack of scoring and too many bad penalties. They won the first two games of a season-high, five-game road trip Friday night in Springfield and Saturday night in Binghamton before losing their 10th one-goal game Sunday in Hershey. They have won two of the first three games in this year’s 10-game GEICO Connecticut Cup series, including a split in Bridgeport, as they won 2-1 on Oct. 6 and lost 4-1 on Nov. 7.

The Sound Tigers (8-11-0-0) have a new coach, Pat Bingham, since their last meeting with the Wolf Pack/Whale. Bingham replaced Jack Capuano on Nov. 15, when Capuano was promoted to coach of the New York Islanders after Scott Gordon was let go and became an assistant to general manager Garth Snow.

The Sound Tigers improved to 2-2-0-0 under Bingham with a 3-0 victory over Atlantic Division-leading Portland on Sunday as rookie goalie Kevin Poulin made 29 saves for his first pro shutout. Poulin also had 28 saves in the Sound Tigers’ only victory over the Wolf Pack/Whale this season, 4-1 in Bridgeport on Nov. 6. He is 5-2-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

Baldwin said tickets have picked up for the Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 11-23, when 30 youth, high school, prep school, college and alumni games will be played, along with an AHL game between the Whale and Providence Bruins and a celebrity game between cast members of the Baldwin-produced “Mystery, Alaska” movie and players from the 1986 NHL All-Star Game that the Whalers hosted at the Civic Center.

“We’re really zoning in hard on the schedule and will be getting that out in more detail real soon,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the difficulty for his group is they started in January thinking they were going to take over the business operations of the Wolf Pack, but that hit a snag because of the disruption between AEG and Northland. So Whalers Sports and Entertainment fervently put together a Whalers Fan Fest in August that drew 5,000 fans to Rentschler Field and the Whalers Hockey Fest.

“It was (wife) Karen and I sitting around wondering what we were going to do to show we weren’t going away,” Baldwin said. “The Winter Fest became an entity unto itself and then all of a sudden, we got the team, so we’re balancing two rather large entities.

“We wondered for a while if we’d get the team, but once we got into July, I knew we would, but it was a question of how quickly. We easily could have said we weren’t going to do it, that we were going to walk away from it, but if we did that than there would be no hockey here, and we want hockey here. So we just had to make the sacrifice, which was done. Now we need to see improvements (in attendance). There are still going to be days where it’s slow, but I think you’ll see attendance jump now.”

Kennedy and Goalies Don’t Mix

Wolf Pack center Tim Kennedy can’t seem to stay away from brush-ups with goalies.

Kennedy got into his third tussle with a netminder Saturday night after being called for boarding Binghamton defenseman Derek Smith behind the Senators net. As Kennedy skated away, he was pursued by goalie Barry Brust, who pulled a Ron Hextall and smacked Kennedy in the face with his hard blocker/glove, knocking him to the ice. Brust got a minor penalty for roughing, while Kennedy received a double minor for boarding and roughing, though it’s hard to understand how he got the second penalty when Brust did all the roughing.

“I was trying to draw a penalty because we had one,” Kennedy said Tuesday after practice at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell. “I didn’t expect him to hit me at all. He thought (the hit) was dirty, but it was a clean hit. He (Smith) knew I was going to hit him, so in order to not get hit, he turned at the last second because he didn’t want to take a hit. I can’t let up because I’m already going for the hit, and if I try to pull up on a dime, I’m going to hurt myself.

“(Brust) was screaming at me about the hit and then told me to shut the (bleep) up. I turned my head for a second, and he hit me. He didn’t hit me that hard, but I was just trying to draw a penalty because I didn’t want us to be down (a man). It didn’t work because we ended up being shorthanded, but it was a case where the goalie did more than he should. He should just worry about stopping the puck because we scored on the next shift. But things like this happen. There are no rules down here (the AHL). I guess you can do whatever you want.”

As expected, Senators coach Kurt Kleinendorst supported his goalie’s retribution.

“It’s a shame that (Brust) had to, that he was the one who had to realize something needed to be done,” Kleinendorst told Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog. “But it doesn’t surprise me. I think he would have chased the guy down to the far blue line if he had to, but that’s a good thing.”

Brust had 40 saves, but Kennedy and the Wolf Pack/Whale got the last laugh when Jeremy Williams’ power-play goal at 1:03 of overtime gave the visitors a 3-2 victory. That came after Chad Kolarik had two goals and one assist against his former team in a 5-2 victory over the Springfield Falcons on Friday night and before the Hershey Bears scored four second-period goals and then held on for a 4-3 win over the Wolf Pack/Whale on Sunday.

Rangers Trade Nigel Williams to Anaheim for Stu Bickel

The Rangers traded disgruntled Wolf Pack defenseman Nigel Williams to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday for defenseman Stu Bickel.

Williams, 22, wasn’t interested in returning to the Wolf Pack this season but had to report or he would have been suspended. He asked to be traded and was finally obliged after being a healthy scratch the last seven games. Williams, acquired from Colorado for defenseman Brian Fahey on July 16, 2009, had one assist and two penalty minutes in 12 games and played wing at times in his last few appearances.

Bickel, 24, had three assists and 14 penalty minutes in six games with the Syracuse Crunch this season and played one game with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. Signed as a free agent by Anaheim on July 2, 2008, Bickel has two goals, six assists and 103 penalty minutes in 63 AHL game. A native of Chanhassen, Minn., Bickel played one season at the University of Minnesota, where he had one goal and five assists in 45 games, before turning pro. … Left wing Brodie Dupont skated with his teammates for the first time since he sustained a 16-stitch cut when the blade of a Manchester Monarchs’ player opened a gash above his left knee late in a 4-3 loss to the Monarchs last Wednesday.

“It’s feeling better, but we’re still waiting for the swelling to go down,” Dupont said. “We just want to make sure it’s pain-tolerable because turning causes some pain. Everything is questionable right now.”

Dupont was expected to be sidelined 7-to-10 days and hoped to play this weekend, but that’s up in the air.

Familiar Faces Abound

A lot of familiar faces faced off Sunday night in Hershey. Wolf Pack/Whale defenseman Wade Redden and Bears defenseman Lawrence Nycholat, who played for the Wolf Pack in parts of three seasons (2002-05), were teammates with the Ottawa Senators in 2006-08. Bears left wing Boyd Kane played most of his first four pro seasons with the Wolf Pack (1998-2002), and defenseman Brian Fahey played in Hartford in 2008-09. … Texas Stars goaltender Richard Bachman was named AHL Player of the Week after stopping 87 of 90 shots in three victories, capped by a 26-save performance in a 2-0 win over Milwaukee on Sunday. The Wolf Pack/Whale nominated right wing Jeremy Williams, who had three goals and two assists in four games, while other nominees included Brust, Nycholat, former Wolf Pack goalie Al Montoya (San Antonio), former New Canaan High and Taft School-Watertown standout wing Max Pacioretty (Hamilton) and goalie Kevin Poulin (Bridgeport). … The Greenville Road Warriors loaned goalie Dov Grumet-Morris, who appeared in two games with the Wolf Pack/Whale earlier this season, to the Portland Pirates. Grumet-Morris, 28, was 3-2-0 with a 3.00 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in five games with the Road Warriors, who are affiliated with the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. He was 0-1-1 with a 1.32 GAA and .935 save percentage with the Wolf Pack. Now he has been reunited with the Pirates. In the 2006-07 season, he was 1-6-3 with a 3.03 GAA and .903 save percentage in 11 games with the Pirates and backstopped them to a playoff victory over the Wolf Pack. … Mired in a 0-for-22 slump on the power play, the Rochester Americans pulled off one of the quickest comebacks in AHL history when they scored three goals in 52 seconds with the man advantage in the last 7:20 for a 5-4 victory over the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday night. The Amerks, who had lost four in a row at home and seven of eight this season, took advantage of three Crunch penalties in 46 seconds to get two goals from Evgeny Dadonov and one from Mike Kostka. Chris Taylor assisted on all three goals after scoring the Amerks’ second goal and was nominated for player of the week.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Doyle via CTNow.com)