Here’s a familiar song in an unfamiliar setting:
During a timeout in last night’s 2-1 win over Ottawa, the Hurricanes arena crew played “Brass Bonanza,” maybe pro sports’ most famous fight song—which is quite the superlative, given that it’s a fight song for a team that hasn’t existed in 21 years.
“Brass Bonanza” is forever tied to the Hartford Whalers, who adopted the song in their WHA days and kept it right up through 1997 (with a one-year interruption, allegedly because the players hated it), when they moved to Raleigh and became the Hurricanes. The Canes franchise has had something of a fraught relationship with its New England roots; Carolina unretired the jersey numbers of Rick Ley and John McKenzie after relocating. Peter Karmanos, who bought the franchise in 1994, wanted a clean break from the past, and for two decades, that’s meant little to no acknowledgement of the traditions and histories linked to the Whalers.
“I don’t know why the people there are so upset,” Karmonos said in 2015. “The team hadn’t ever won a thing. They had a celebration for a first-round playoff loss.”
But time has a way of sowing fondness. The Whalers are essentially a cult classic, especially as more and more fans of the sport arrive with no real memories of Hartford having a team. They’re certainly more popular now than they were toward the end of their existence, when they were basically the NHL’s laughingstocks and drawing well below capacity even at one of the league’s smallest arenas. And nothing evokes the good times in Hartford—of which there weren’t many—like the sound of “Brass Bonanza,” a preternaturally catchy, undeniably kitschy throwback to what we imagine as a simpler time in hockey.
And now it’s back. For that, you can thank new Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, who completed his purchase of the team earlier this month. In a radio interview with WRAL yesterday, transcribed by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, Dundon said he’d like to go even further and have the Hurricanes wear Whalers throwback uniforms.
“I think that’s an unbelievably good look. I love it. I think we should have a store that sells that Whalers merchandise online. I think we should explore playing games in that jersey and selling that gear. It’s part of the legacy,” Dundon told ESPN 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. I won’t pretend I don’t get joy from hearing “Brass Bonanza” in that video up there, or a little thrill when I spot a Whalers jersey in the wild. It’s a shibboleth among hockey fans, and if I were a Hurricanes fan, you’re damn right I’d want to claim it as my own. (How Nutmeggers would feel about this is, presumably, how they’ve felt since the team left: bitter.)
The Hurricanes have struggled to build a real identity, even despite a 2006 Stanley Cup win. Being bad is part of that —they haven’t made the playoffs since 2009—but being generally forgettable is worse. The uniforms. The venue. The fact that their franchise player has been Cam Ward. These aren’t immediately fixable problems, but I can’t really deny that to a significant chunk of the hockey world, the Hurricanes’ identity is “the team that used to be the Whalers.” Might as well embrace it.