MUSIC - Heartless by Heart
Photographed in 1995, 1996 and 2002 using film.
Hartford Civic Center (opened 1975 and still in use) - Known as Hartford Civic Center 1975 - 2007, XL Center 2007 - present. From 1972 thru 1997 it was the home to the New England / Hartford Whalers of the NHL.
Location - 126 Asylum St. Hartford, Connecticut -- Bounded by Trumbull St., S. Church St., Ann St.
Have you ever decided to go to a mall, and say what the hell let's go to a hockey game? Such was and still is the case in Hartford Connecticut. The Hartford Civic Center was literally built with a shopping mall around it.
The Civic Center / Veterans Memorial Coliseum opened on January 9, 1975, in downtown Hartford. Two nights later, the New England Whalers of the old WHA played their first game in the new building to a sold out crowd. They would change their name to the Hartford Whalers for the start of the 1979 season. The New England Whalers were a vagabond lot in the days of the WHA. They literally had four different arenas to play in before the Civic Center was built. The Whalers started out at the Boston Arena on the Northeastern University campus, followed by the Boston Garden, the Eastern States Coliseum in Springfield Massachusetts, and the Springfield Civic Center. Ironically, the Boston Arena (now known as the Matthews arena) was also the original home of the Boston Bruins of the NHL. The Whalers were successful on the ice in their WHA days, winning the inaugural Avco World cup in 1973.
On the night of January 18, 1978, a huge blizzard hit the Hartford area. Snow and ice piled up on the roof. The weight of all that snow and ice caused the roof to cave in. Fortunately it happened in the wee hours of the morning. Had it happened 4 hours earlier, thousands of people may have been killed. A basketball game was held and there were over 5,000 fans in the building. No one was inside at the time of the roof collapse. It took two years to rebuild the arena. During that time, the Whalers had to play their home games at the Springfield Civic Center, 25 miles north of Hartford.
The Whalers enjoyed success on the ice and at the gate during their time in Hartford. Unfortunately, their only championship was the one they won in the WHA.
The Whalers left Hartford after the 1997 season due to a small market and small arena. The arena lacked the goodies that all new arenas had. The owner of the Whalers left New England all together and moved to that hockey hotbed of Raleigh North Carolina (insert sarcasm here). The team now known as the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
The end of the Whalers in Hartford came on April 13, 1997. The Whalers played their last game at the Civic Center, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. It was fitting that team captain Kevin Dineen scored the final goal in Whaler history. Hartford was not without hockey very long. The Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL began play in the fall of 1997. The Wolfpack still use the Coliseum to this day.
Like most arenas, the Coliseum saw it's share of ice shows, rodeos, concerts and just about anything else you would put inside. It also had other tenants besides the Whalers. The U. Conn. Huskies men's and women's basketball teams have played select home games here since 1980. The New England Blizzard of the ABL played here from 1996 to 1998. The AFL saw two teams use the arena. The Connecticut Coyotes were there from 1995-1996 and the New England Sea Wolves used the Coliseum from 1999 thru the 2000 season. Even the legendary Boston Celtics used the Coliseum for select games beginning in 1975 thru the 1995 season.
The Coliseum had many tenants, but the Whalers were by far the most beloved. Usually the team was competitive and made the NHL playoffs 8 times during their tenure in Hartford. The Whalers had a few hall of famers don their jersey. Paul Coffey, Dave Keon, Ron Francis, Bobby Hull and the godfather of hockey, Gordie Howe, all wore the Whale tail. The Whalers have retired 3 numbers in their history. Rick Ley had his number 2 hanging from the rafters, and John Mckenzie had his number 19 up there also. Gordie Howe only played in Hartford for 3 years, but they retired his number 9 also. Hartford's favorite son was Ron Francis. For 10 years, from 1981 thru 1991, he gave his heart and soul to the franchise. Unfortunately, his number 10 wasn't retired until the team had moved to Carolina.
Hartford's time in the NHL was fairly short, but it was memorable. The arena could get LOUD. There are thousands of fans that would give anything to have their Whalers back on Coliseum ice again.
In 2004, the mall part of the Civic Center was demolished. Condos and retail space went up around the old Coliseum. There has been talk about the NHL returning to Hartford at some point. The only way would be with a new downtown arena.
The arena with the mall around it is still going strong, even though the mall is long gone. The ghosts of Whaler greats, Sylvain Turgeon, Mike Liut, Rick Ley, Blaine Stoughton and Ron Francis still roam the arena.
The view of the Hartford Civic Center from Church and Ann Streets. 6/02