Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon had a simple reason for wanting to recognize his team's Connecticut roots by bringing back the Hartford Whalers jerseys for their game against the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; SN1, FS-CR, NESN, NHL.TV).
"The motivation was primarily around [the fact that] it's interesting, it looks great and it's a way do something different," Dundon said. "It's a long season and we're in the entertainment business and this is going to make this night different and enjoyable and connect with fans whether it's in Hartford or anywhere else. So, I hope they enjoy it."
The Whalers Night game will be the first time the Hurricanes wear the Whalers' logo and the green jerseys with blue and white trim since the team moved from Hartford to North Carolina following the 1996-97 season (to Greensboro for two seasons and then to Raleigh in 1999). The Hurricanes will wear them again when they visit the Bruins at TD Garden on March 5.
To add to the retro mood for the game in Carolina, the Whalers' mascot, "Pucky the Whale," will sound the Hurricane Warning siren before the game, and the Hurricanes will use the Whalers' theme song, "Brass Bonanza," as their goal song.
Mike Rogers, a center who led the Whalers with 105 points in each of their first two NHL seasons after they were absorbed from the World Hockey Association in 1979, will drop the puck for a ceremonial face-off. The Carolina Hurricanes Foundation will auction select game-worn sweaters and other Whalers items Sunday, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Learn to Play Program at the Champions Skating Center in Hartford, which is owned by former Whalers player Bob Crawford.
"I'm was so excited when I got the phone call," said Rogers, who was captain of the Whalers in 1980-81. "It's nice that they're going to recognize the Whalers and what we did in the past. For them to do that, I look at it as an honor that I'll be there and it's going to be an exciting time."
Hockey Hall of Famers such as Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Bobby Hull, Mark Howe, Dave Keon, Chris Pronger and Brendan Shanahan played in Hartford and are part of Whalers history. But after the move to North Carolina, the Hurricanes wanted a fresh start and left behind the logo, the jerseys and almost everything that had to do with the Whalers.
When Dundon completed the purchase of a majority interest in the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos on Jan. 11, he began looking for ways to increase fan interest and thought there was no longer a reason to ignore the Hartford history.
"It just felt like something that time has passed and it's probably not something to avoid, but maybe enjoy," Dundon said. "It happens to be an iconic jersey and logo and to me it's more about that."
The Whalers logo, a "W" with a whale's tail on top that connect to create an "H" in the negative space in the center, hasn't been worn in an NHL game for more than 21 years, but it's developed a kind of a cult following since then. Rogers, who retired in 1986 after playing seven NHL seasons with the Whalers, New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, often sees people wearing it during his travels and in his hometown of Calgary.
"Last week, I was doing some Christmas shopping and saw a guy wearing a Whalers jersey," Rogers said. "I think that logo was so unique that people kind of rallied around that more than the Hartford Whalers team. They just thought it was a cool logo, and when people remember the Hartford Whalers a lot of it has to do with that jersey."
Video: Brass Bonanza rings throughout the arena in Raleigh
Whether it's the draw of the logo and jersey, the novelty for the fans or it being their final game before a three-day break for Christmas, the Hurricanes are expecting their best crowd since they sold out their season opener against the New York Islanders on Oct. 4.
"Part of that is it's a great date, a good team coming in and the team has started to generate more excitement," Dundon said. "We've got some good players, and this is sort of the icing on top to have a good night there."
Having experienced the Whalers' departure from Hartford, Fox Sports Carolinas play-by-play announcer John Forslund has mixed emotions about seeing those jerseys again. A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Forslund, 56, joined the Whalers as their public relations director in 1991 before becoming the play-by-play announcer on their telecasts on SportsChannel New England in 1995.
He called the Whalers' final game at the Hartford Civic Center, a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 13, 1997, and remembers how gut-wrenching it was for the fans.
"It's nice that they're going roll back and try to recapture some of the heritage," Forslund said "I think for some of the people up north, it's celebrated and they're happy. And I think there are some people up north that are bitter about it still. Down here, I think it's a novelty. The uniforms are striking. It's cool. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Dundon noted that North Carolina had a shore-based whaling industry for more than 250 years before it closed down in 1916. So although Raleigh is about a two-hour drive from the coast, there is a North Carolina connection to the Whalers name.
"It probably makes more sense than the Los Angeles Lakers," said Dundon, referring to the fact that the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers, whose name reflected Minnesota's state nickname, "Land of 10,000 Lakes," opted not to change when the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1960.
That doesn't mean Dundon is considering changing the name back to Whalers. But having another Whalers Night next season is a possibility.
"We probably haven't gotten that far about next year. But so far, based on how there's been interest, it's been talked about," Dundon said. "I think people have enjoyed, it, so if it goes the way it's going so far, then we would definitely strongly consider doing it again."