By Dan Canavan
On Saturday, Connecticut hockey fans turned their shoulders into the wind and huddled into Rentschler Field to be a part of the Whale Bowl, the main event of a two-week hockey festival produced by Howard Baldwin and Whalers Sports and Entertainment (“WSE”). The exact number of fans who watched Baldwin’s Connecticut Whale take on the visiting Providence Bruins remains unknown. Announced attendance figures were rather confusing.
Regardless, the Whale Bowl will be remembered for its sub-zero conditions.
Unless you were actually there, it is difficult to describe just how dangerously cold it was. Unattended beverages froze solid, shavings from the ice blew into the stands, and most fans were more concerned about the wind than the score. And the frigid conditions kept thousands of fans away from Rentschler field. Everyone can agree that attendance would have been better had the temperature been north of freezing and the wind chill above zero. But at the end of the day, the attendance figures won’t really matter.
While some sports fans likely left Rentschler Field feeling let down by the frozen experience, they cannot criticize Baldwin’s energy. Whalerfest was a tremendous undertaking, and the two-week festival demonstrated Baldwin’s determination and commitment to revive the local hockey market, increase interest in the AHL, and bring the NHL back to Hartford. Over the course of the festival, Baldwin and Co. entertained thousands of fans, provided amateur players with a unique outdoor experience, and put hockey back at the forefront of the Connecticut sports landscape.
In November, Howard Baldwin stated that the Whalerfest will be part of an “effort to put hockey back on the map for Hartford and in Connecticut.” The success of Baldwin’s efforts cannot be measured by the number of tickets sold or distributed for the Whale Bowl alone. Even if the game was sold out under sunny skies, Baldwin’s dream of returning Hartford to the big leagues is a long way off. And Baldwin admits that significant work remains ahead “to make this market what we know it can be and what it once was.” Whether the NHL follows Baldwin back to Hartford will largely depend on whether Hartford really believes it’s a major league city. But like the New England weather, the community’s support of Baldwin is out of his control.