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The legacy of Brass Bonanza

Friday, 03.21.2008 / 12:00 PM / Off the Wall

By Evan Weiner - NHL.com Correspondent

Current Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke made
the decision to do away with the popular "Brass
Bonanza" theme song when he took over as GM
of the Hartford Whalers back in 1992.
Two of the most recognizable songs in sports are the Notre Dame fight song and the Washington Redskins' Hail to the Redskins.  But hockey's most famous fight song may belong to a team that no longer exists.

Brass Bonanza was the long-time theme song of the New England-Hartford Whalers from the WHA days in the mid-1970s throughout the NHL days between 1979-97. The WHA New England Whalers' promotional department was looking for a song to liven the atmosphere at Whalers games, first in Springfield, Mass., then at the Hartford Civic Center after the team moved from Boston following the 1973-74 season.

A Whalers front office employee, George Ducharme, had the record sitting in his home and never listened to it until he had guests over and played the song. The song was written by Jack Say and was sold to a record library. Ducharme played the song and instantly knew that he had the right song for Whalers games.

Brass Bonanza became the Whalers theme song by 1977 and it probably is the most-played hockey theme song in the NHL.

But it wasn't a continuous run for the Whalers and Brass Bonanza. When Brian Burke took over as the general manager of the Whalers in 1992, one of his first decisions was to get rid of the very popular song, much to the dismay of Whalers fans and people like Gordie Howe and Ron Francis.
 
Pierre Maguire, who joined the Whalers as the assistant GM in 1992, said that Burke banned the song, and all these years later, Burke still thinks he was correct in getting rid of the fight song.
 
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"I did because there were players who were embarrassed by it," said Burke. "An NHL team with a fight song, they were embarrassed by it. As soon as I went to the NHL they put it back in. No big deal."
 
But it was a big deal in Hartford according to Maguire.
 
"His motto was no more Mr. Nice Guy," said Maguire of Burke's decision. "He thought the Brass Bonanza was too nice, so he got rid of it. For a lot of players, coaches and fans, it was (the Whalers' signature song). Brian wanted to do it his own way. Eventually after Brian left and went to the League, the song came back."
 
Burke didn't like the song, but Maguire was one of many, including, Gordie Howe, who would suddenly just hum the song.
 
"Not just me," Maguire said. "Whether they were working out or on a plane or different things. (Maguire hums the song). It's a pretty catchy tune. Gordie heard it a lot because he scored. Whenever you heard it, you did something well."
 
Even though Maguire, Howe, Francis and people around hockey liked Brass Bonanza, Burke went to Hartford after being the assistant GM in Vancouver determined to turn around the fortunes of the Whale. He decided to clean house and the song had to go.
 
"Everything they had done in Hartford to that point had less than desirable results," said Burke, who built the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. "We changed uniforms, we eliminated the fight song, we made some major moves that would have led to long-term success but it just didn't work out between me and the owner and I went back to the NHL."
 
With Burke gone, Whalers fans welcomed the song back, and Maguire, who remained with the team in 1993, thought it was the right move to restore the song.
 
"It was a good thing and it was a good thing for the community too," said Maguire. "It (the song) brought a lot of energy to the building and people got into it and the players got into it. (The coaches), anytime your team scores you are always happy."
 
"It's a pretty catchy tune. Gordie (Howe) heard it a lot because he scored. Whenever you heard it, you did something well." -- NBC analyst and former Whalers' Assistant GM
Pierre Maguire
The Hartford Whalers' final game was in 1997, and Maguire thinks it's a good thing that Brass Bonanza is still played at sporting events throughout New England, including some baseball games at Fenway Park in Boston, and the song keeps the memory of the Whalers alive.
 
"Yeah, I think they are really an under-appreciated team in the history of the League," Maguire said. "If you look at the great players who went through there, whether it would be Gordie Howe, Dave Keon or Ricky Ley. You look at the fact they had unbelievable talent in Ronnie Francis, Ulfie Samuelsson, Kevin Dineen, Ray Ferraro. I mean there was a huge legacy of great talent that went through there. It was a team that was run by a legendary guy like Emile Francis. You know I can't say enough good things about it. Everything was great about it and (Hartford) was a great place to live too."
 
Is the Whalers' legacy Brass Bonanza?
 
"I hope there is more than that," Maguire said. "You got to look at the (2006) Stanley Cup that was won by Carolina. There was a lot of Hartford pride in the Carolina Stanley Cup win." 

The Ducks once played Brass Bonanza after home victories before Burke got to the Southern California franchise. Burke didn't need to ban it again as the song faded from the Anaheim rotation.

Brass Bonanza lives on long after the Whalers run in Hartford ended. It is played at University of Connecticut sports events. When Craig Kilborn hosted the Late Late Show on CBS, he had actress Carmen Electra dance to the song. Minor league baseball teams in State College, Pa., and New Britain, Ct., have used the song.

The song that sat in George Ducharme's record case, unplayed until friends came over, may be hockey's most popular theme song ever, even if Burke tried to get rid of it.




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