If there is one claim to fame that belongs to Hartford Hockey history it’s the Howe family. Gordie Howe and his two sons played together at the XL Center just over 30 years ago. Gordie Howe, who is hockey’s greatest player, was 52 years of age when he completed a full 80 game season with the Hartford Whalers in the NHL.
Gordie scored 15 goals that year and had 26 assists for 41 points. He even scored a goal and had an assist in a short exit from the playoffs that final year, and he did it all at the corners of Church and Ann Uccello Street. It may seem like a long time ago but on this night you could see memories of those days come to life on the faces of many of the fans at the Connecticut Whale game this past Saturday night.
The crowd of 9,276 took their moment to show their appreciation for Gordie, Marty, Mark and Colleen Howe and the part they all played in Hartford Hockey history. The Howe family was honored on the ice by the fans in the XL Center as they all witnessed the raising of the Howe Faimly Banner. The banner reads: “Hockey’s First Family.” Before the game Gordie looked great signing autographs, sharing memories and taking photos with his fist under everyone’s chins. Gordie put smiles on everyone face and he had some smiles of his own too. Gordie still looks as tough as nails and he was really active with the fans for a man who will be 83 years old next week.
During game war ups the Connecticut Whale wore special Gordie Howe jerseys all with good old number 9 on the back. Unfortunately it didn’t bring the Connecticut Whale any luck. The Whale could have used Gordie, Mark and Marty’s help that night as they fell behind early. The Whale didn’t help themselves at all by allowing three power play goals after taking poor penalties. They found themselves killing off a lengthy 5 on 3 and not many teams mount a comeback while playing shorthanded for the bulk of two periods. This game should have reminded everyone of that old joke about attending a fight when a hockey game broke out, because when it came to fights there were plenty to be seen.
The Whale actually scored early for what would be their only lead of the game. Derek Couture sniped a shot past Bridgeport goaltender Nathan Lawson for a 1-0 lead about seven minutes into the first period. Then trouble started with a dancing partner battle royal at center ice involving Justin Soryal and Bridgeport’s Benn Olsen. Shortly after Devon DiDomete and Brodie Dupont received penalties for boarding and unsportsmanlike conduct.
Just ten seconds later Jeremy Williams and Bridgeport’s Rhett Rakshani received two minutes each for high-sticking and cross-checking. About another 5 minutes later Soryal and Olsen decided it was time for a rematch and they went at it again, and again both would sit down for another five minutes.
After Rob Hisey scored early in the second period to give Bridgeport a 3-1 lead the fighting broke out again. This time Derek Couture and Brian Day would be sent to sit down for five minutes for fighting. Whale defenseman Jared Nightingale and Art Bidlevski received five minutes for fighting as well. Nightingale would get the extra two minutes for roughing to put the Whale down a man and give Bridgeport one of their eight power plays. Jeremy William’s cross-checking penalty with just over a minute and a half left in the second period led to the final Bridgeport power play goal by Arron Ness with only 16 seconds to go in the second period. The Whale was now down 4-1 in the game.
The third period was mostly uneventful. The Whale had literally punched themselves out as both teams did not receive a penalty in the third period. Bridgeport’s Rob Hisey scored his second goal of the game. It was the final goal of the game and Bridgeport won by a score of 5-1. It was a lost that took some time to play out as there were 81 penalty minutes in the game and 46 of those minutes belonged to the Whale, 14 infractions for the Whale in total. Whale fans certainly do not want to see this type of a game so close to the playoffs.
The Playoff Picture:
The Whale may have lost the game but they maintained their lead on the Worcester Sharks by six points. The Springfield Falcons had beaten Worcester Saturday night 7-2 to snap the Falcons 12 game winless streak. Binghamton pulled ahead of the Whale by one point as they defeated the visiting Providence Bruins 4-1.
With only 7 games remaining in the regular season the Whale will hit the road to play Providence Sunday and Friday. Saturday they will play Springfield and on Sunday Kevin Dineen’s Portland Pirates will come to the XL Center for what may be their last visit to Hartford this season. The Whale and the Pirates could meet in the playoffs depending on where the teams land in the final standings once the regular season ends.