Until this memorable evening there had never been a pro hockey game in Hartford. The city could not have been further off the major league map. But within just five years the Whalers would become the WHA's premier franchise and would join the National Hockey League.
In 1975, the city of Hartford dreamed big dreams -- and those dreams came true.
By Tom Hine, Hartford Courant, January 11, 1975
The many years of waiting have long since disappeared.
It's now only a matter of hours.
The City of Hartford is on the major league sports map, and the New England Whalers have a home of their own.
It culminates at 7:30 tonight when the first WHA hockey puck is dropped at center ice in the two-day-old Hartford Civic Center.
And Hartford...and the Whalers...couldn't be happier.
It's been a long road.
That's exactly where the Whalers have spent most of the last three month. On the road. Even their 13 games in West Springfield were away from home, only a temporary residence for a major league hockey team that awaited ever so patiently for the final touches on a new Civic Center they'll move into tonight.
The San Diego Mariners are listed as the Whalers' first Hartford foes, but most of the fans don't know it. The 10,507 who bought tickets to assure a sellout tonight over ten days ago could care less who the Whalers are playing. They just want to be there when it happens.
Fancy words like icing, blue lines, red lines, creases, offsides...that will all come later. Teams like the Jets, Aeros, Nordiques, Fighting Saints, Roadrunners..that will all come later, too. And names like Abrahamsson, Swain, Fotiu, Ley, Webster, Pleau...they, too, may be unfamiliar to most patrons, but they'll be household words in only a short time.
Hartford wanted major league hockey, and it will have it tonight.
The Whalers, first-season champions in the three-year-old WHA, got off to a quick start toward their third Eastern Division title in a row. But, problems have beset them of late, and they've been losing more than they're winning.
New England has won only two of its last eleven games, just seven of its last 20, but it still leads its division by 14 points. The Whalers' 25 road games have had a lot to do with the recent losses, overlooking perhaps an even more important item...the Whalers' injuries.
Only five of the 21 players on the roster have managed to escape injury since Nov. 29 and 20 separate injuries have forced eleven players to miss at least one game. Many players missed a lot more than that. But, healthy or not, winning or not, the Whalers are here.
Even thought they won't see the Civic Center for the first time until an 11 a.m. practice this morning, the Whalers are glad to be home. It can't help but be an exciting moment when they first skate onto the one-inch glazed surface to meet the Mariners.
The Whalers opened the new Hartford Civic Center in grand fashion as a shorthanded overtime goal by Garry Swain gave New England a 4-3 win over the San Diego Mariners.
Don Blackburn scored the first-ever Whalers goal in Hartford at 11:21 of the first period. Fred O'Donnell and Wayne Carleton also scored added markers as the Whalers led 3-2 after two stanzas.
San Diego's Michel Rouleau tallied with 5:51 left in the third period to set the stage for Swain's opening night heroics.
With Tommy Abrahamsson serving a minor penalty, Swain stole the puck from Kevin Morrison and blasted a slap shot past Mariner goalie Ernie Wakely at 5:47.
"I was on the ice for about a minute and that was the only shot I had left" recalls Swain. " I was really drained."