Hartford Whalers fan fest brings back memories, raises questions

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ronfrancishfd-getty-bennett.jpgThere was a heaping dose of hockey nostalgia this weekend surrounding a team that hasn’t been in the NHL since 1997. For the fans of what once were the Hartford Whalers this weekend provided a time to come together to celebrate not just the past glory of the Whalers but also to praise one of their own for winning the Stanley Cup this year. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is a former Whalers defenseman.

It also provided the opportunity for the fans in Hartford to show that they want the NHL to make a miraculous return to the city and resurrect the Whale as Jeff Jacobs of The Hartford Courant shares.

“It’s a first step and as a first step, my God, I can’t get over how great it was,” Howard Baldwin said. “The joy in people’s faces, the joy of being involved in something like this, it was a chance for people to express themselves. And that expression just grew and grew.”

Baldwin had said he would consider 1,500 a good showing. Privately, he hoped for upward of 3,000. He got 4,700. This wasn’t a final election, but it was a primary, an early referendum on whether folks believed Baldwin ought to keep pushing to rebuild the hockey marketplace, to keep alive the dream to one day bring the NHL back.

Consider the message sent.

Even if 15,000 had shown up nobody was going to drive up to the Rent and hand-deliver an NHL franchise to Connecticut. That’s a long way off. So many obstacles remain. Yet if 200 folks showed, you may as well have counted out Hartford on the spot.

“You know me better than to think I would have quit,” Baldwin insisted, “but I would have gone home and sulked.”

Instead, Baldwin has to feel empowered to keep building, to keep moving ahead. The NHL has to wake up this morning and, at the very least, say, “This is no joke.”

If you’re not familiar with who Howard Baldwin is, he’s the former owner of the Hartford Whalers and his love of the franchise has not waned. Holding a convention for fans that managed to break out former Whalers stars like Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, Larry Pleau and Dana Murzyn shows that you mean business when paying respects to the team and to the fans. Whether it means you’re serious about trying to get the NHL back to Connecticut is another question entirely.

The nostalgia for the Whalers is palpable amongst fans everywhere. The logo is iconic, their hapless ways made them endearing and the only fans that ever seemed to hate the Whalers are Bruins fans. Take that for what you think it’s worth. Waxing poetic for the days of Pat Verbeek, Mike Liut, Ray Ferraro and Sylvain Turgeon makes it seem like the Whalers were a big time team. Even getting name-dropped in Kevin Smith’s movie “Mallrats” helps pile on the reflective love for the Whale. Make no mistake about it, I love the Whalers, their history and everything about them… But Hartford doesn’t deserve

Fact of the matter is, the Whalers were a mediocre team and the fans in Hartford had a hard time packing the place out game in and game out. We’d all love to see the Whalers come back somehow, someway but unless that somehow magically transforms Hartford back into a city worth having an NHL team, Hartford is going to have to be content with being one of the larger AHL markets.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.