I posted a hypothetical question on the Hartford Courant's Hartford Whalers Message Board in 2011. The topic began a thread of comments, there were concurrences and disagreements abound as not everyone came up with the same answer. If you watch hockey you will have an answer too.
If Connecticut constructed a Hartford Hockey Mount Rushmore in Talcott Mountain or in Sleeping Giant State Park who would be the four faces we would see?
There is no right answer but there are several candidates to choose in making your own personal Hartford Hockey four horseman. A Hartford Hockey Mount Rushmore should be open to players, coaches, owners, city and state officials, sports writers, even equipment managers. If someone has a resume' of being a considerable contributor to Hartford Hockey they should get a fair glance.
The city is preparing for it's 40th consecutive year of being home to professional hockey, over three different leagues. There is plenty of hockey personalities to make some impressive groupings. Here is my Hartford Hockey Mount Rushmore.
I should be able to just type the name, drop the keyboard and walk away. Quite simply, there are many people that helped breathe life into Hartford Hockey but hockey wouldn't be here at all if it wasn't for Howard Baldwin. Face it, we can't even get a minor league baseball team in Hartford without major friction. Howard gets even further credit from me as well, not only did he play a major role in bringing Hartford Hockey to life in the mid 1970's but he revitalized it in 2010. The renewed interest in the Whalers has helped Hartford stay in the conversation as a market that loves hockey and wants the NHL back. In late September of 2010, Howard brought the brand back to life in Hartford by rebranding the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack to the Connecticut Whale, he brought about a Whaler-fest and an outdoor Whalers alumni game. The two events combined drew people out of the suburbs and put Hartford Hockey back into the spotlight. The story didn't have a happy ending and we won't march backwards into details and divide up the blame, but if Howard hadn't rebranded the Wolf Pack and awoke a sleeping army of Hartford Whaler fans Hartford would have even less of a chance to return to the NHL. You wouldn't even be reading this hypothetical Mount Rushmore question, because it wouldn't exist. I was one of those slumbering Whaler fans before 2010 too.
Honorable Mention: Governor Ella Grasso, if Howard Baldwin is the father of Hartford Hockey then Governor Grasso is certainly the mother of Hartford Hockey. The first woman to be Governor of the Connecticut is also the First Lady of Hartford Hockey, Grasso supported hockey in Hartford the way all politicians should.
2. Kevin Dineen
Choosing number 11, Kevin Dineen should be no surprise. It's my guess that the most popular Whaler player of all time is Kevin Dineen. Jeff Jacobs once called him; "John Wayne on skates". All you have to do to get the analogy is watch a game four playoff game winning goal of the 1986 Adams Division Semi-Final. You'll see right wing Kevin Dineen reverse up ice and beat Larry Robinson and goalie Patrick Roy to score the game winning over time goal. It wasn't his only big Hartford Hockey goal but it is a top five Hartford Whaler memory for most. Dineen's goal evened the series against the league's eventual Stanley Cup Champion. Dineen had two stints with the Whalers the first was more as the on ice hero and gritty winger and the second was as the leader to the fans and as the team's Captain. It was Dineen who spoke to Whaler fans at the last game, it was Dineen who scored the last ever NHL goal in Hartford. If Dineen is not on Hartford Hockey's Mount Rushmore than we might as well leave Thomas Jefferson off the real Mount Rushmore.
Honorable Mention: Ulf Sammuelsson played nearly 500 games as a Whaler, he was popular for being a tough kid from Sweden a place more known for hockey finesse and quickness than grit and toughness. Hartford Hockey lost another good player too early when Sammuelsson was traded to Pittsburgh. Sammuelsson had a second stint in Hartford when he was the Assistant Coach to Ken Gernander during the 2005-2006 season, his number was raised to the rafters on January 6 of 2006.
In any sport's Mount Rushmore there has to a franchise's best player. Here in Hartford there can only be one choice. Ron Francis is not just the leader in games played(714) but also in points(821). There is no other player who has had as much impact on the ice as Francis. He was the teams' leader for most of his career and when he was traded it was as bad a move as the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth. Ron Francis is still with the franchise as Carolina's General Manager. He earned the nick name Ronnie Franchise back in the 80's because he was just that, the foundation of the whole team. I couldn't begin to imagine what Francis's numbers would be if he had not played with some very poor Whaler teams in the early 80's. He is fourth in points and second in assists in all time NHL scoring.
Honorable Mention: Gordie Howe, He is easily the greatest player to ever play in Hartford. He is the greatest player to ever play the game period. Howe joined the Whalers at the twilight of his career, and coming to Hartford made headlines, Howe had other offers on the table but he and his family chose Hartford Hockey. Gordie Howe coming to Hartford most certainly putt Hartford on the international hockey map in the late 70's.
The most controversial of my choices according to the Courant's message board, but I find leaving Ken Gernander off of Hartford Hockey's Mount Rushmore would be ignoring the past 17 seasons of hockey in Hartford. In those 17 seasons Ken Gernander has been here for every second and every minute of play. On average, 170 thousand people see the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack every year, that means that millions of people have seen Gernander either coaching or playing in Hartford. He has made Hartford his home and helped many players make it theirs as well. Gernander has been a part of Hartford Hockey for as long as the NHL Whalers were in Hartford. He also was another Hartford Hockey Captain, he played as many NHL games as the number he wore on his back(12) but that number hangs from the XL Center rafters today. Gernander has played more games in Hartford than any other player besides Ron Francis. Nearly 600 games and 347 points as a player for one city is remarkable but add in a decade of coaching the same team in the same city and it solidifies his importance for the sport in our city. Eight of those seasons, including this upcoming one, will be as the head coach. I didn't crunch the numbers but I bet he has coached more hockey games than any other coach in Hartford Hockey history too. Gernander has been at the helm for nearly 300 AHL wins, and appears to be well liked as a coach and developer of young New York Ranger talent. I understand that not everyone knows who Ken Gernander is in Hartford but the accomplishments are there and there is no doubt that Gernander has impacted Hartford Hockey for nearly two decades. The longevity of that impact no matter how big or small is also unmatched to this point.
Honorable Mention: William Barnes, Barnes like Gernander isn't credited enough for his impact on Hartford Hockey. Barnes was an integral part of bringing Hartford Hockey to life. Barnes was a founding partner of the New England Whalers. There is no telling what would have happened to Hartford Hockey if Barnes was not there to be a part of it.
Who is on your Hartford Hockey Mount Rushmore?