As the green-and-blue uniforms hit the ice a few minutes before 7 p.m. Saturday, "Brass Bonanza" filled the
and 13,089 fans reveled in the nostalgia of the moment.
"It feels like old times,"
And there was indeed a sense that
's downtown arena was in a time warp on the night when the AHL team was re-christened as the
Whale. With green jerseys throughout the stands, fans roared during a pregame video that interspersed Whalers from the past with Whales of the present — a shot of Kris Newbury followed by the image of
After all of the references to Hartford's hockey history (Tony Harrington belting out the national anthem, a group of former Whalers on the ice before the game, the introduction of "Welcome back to Hockey Night in Hartford"), the game came down to a shootout for the former
When Jeremy Williams netted the game-winner to secure a 3-2 win over the
, the crowd erupted. And appropriately, the night that was as much a celebration of Hartford hockey was capped with another rendition of "Brass Bonanza."
"You can feel the energy," said Whale coach
, who has been with Hartford's AHL franchise since its inception in 1997. "When a big play is made, it just enhances the game."
Most of the crowd remained throughout the overtime period and shootout. Baldwin, who took over the marketing of the team just weeks before the season, hopes customers keep coming back and an exciting game will only help his chances.
Baldwin was hoping for a crowd of 10,000-plus, but the Whale got a walkup of about 3,200. And beyond the number of fans in the building, it was an electric atmosphere.
"I don't think people understand the difference," Williams said. "When you step out there and make a big hit and everybody goes bananas, it makes you want to do it again and again. It's a great feeling. I'm hoping we get some good fan support now. It helps the guys and I think it will be really good for the city."
The players noticed the difference before their pregame skate. They decided to connect with the crowd by discarding their helmets for the early skate and they seem to feed off the fans once the puck was dropped.
"The crowd was awesome," said Brodie Dupont, who had a goal and an assist.
Dupont's second-period goal gave the Whale a 1-0 lead and sent the crowd into a tizzy as its favorite song played.
tied on a goal by Rhett Rakhshani at 6:22 of the third, but Connecticut regained the lead when Oren Eizenman — playing in his first game with the team — scored with 5:55 left.
But Bridgeport's Anton Klementyev beat Chad Johnson on a backhander with 2:12 remaining to send it into overtime. The Whale outshot the Sound
46-21, but Bridgeport goalie Nathan Lawson kept it close.
Still, the Whale got two points. On Friday, they blew a three-goal lead late in the third period and lost in a shootout in Bridgeport.
On their first night in their new uniforms, they played with energy in front of the second-largest crowd in franchise history. Only the 14,115 at the Civic Center for a Jan. 24, 1998 game against Springfield topped Saturday night.
"I thought it was great," Gernander said. "Real encouraging. The guys really enjoyed it. It was a great atmosphere. Aside from just sheer numbers, I think the people were really into it. It's nice when a guy gets a scoring chance or makes a big play and you can kind of hear a roar from that end of the building."