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Baldwin, Gordon Join Large Group Of Players
EVEN YOUNGER MEMBERS of the Whalers family such as the daughters of Joel Quenneville and Kevin Dineen show their deep devotion to the franchise at Saturday’s barbecue. "It's amazing how close this group was," Dave Tippett said.
By BRUCE BERLET | Courant Staff Writer
August 5, 2007

SOUTH WINDSOR - The 6-foot whale figurine with two dozen stars signed by former hockey heroes at the Civic Center told you something special was going on.

Then there was the Whalers logo in the bottom of a pool at the horse/tobacco farm owned by the parents of Boo Quenneville, the wife of defenseman/Colorado Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville and the brains behind the first reunion of Hartford's NHL team.

Kevin Dineen, the Whalers' final captain who scored the last goal in franchise history, took the microphone and got more than 200 hockey lovers roaring with laughter with a PG version of tales that had been circulating for years.

When the strains of "Brass Bonanza" echoed across the farm, everyone wondered why it all had to end 10 years and four months ago.

"There was always something about the guys' team chemistry, and we wanted to rekindle that camaraderie," Joel Quenneville said. "It's been like a wedding."

Thirty-five players and management types returned to Connecticut for a lobster bake at the farm Friday night and a golf tournament at nearby Willow Brook Golf Course Saturday before a barbecue that included a band playing under one of two tents.

Former managing general partner Howard Baldwin attended Friday night, then had to leave for his mother's 90th birthday party Saturday. He was replaced by former owner Richard Gordon, who drove in from Newport, R.I.

The player gathering was a who's who of the franchise's 25 seasons in Boston, Springfield and Hartford, starting with Hall of Famers Ron Francis, who will be inducted Nov. 12, and announcer Chuck Kaiton (2004). Francis, Dineen, Rick Ley and Randy Ladouceur were former captains on hand. Francis, Dineen, Ley and Ulf Samuelsson are four of the six players to have their retired numbers hanging in the Civic Center rafters.

If you wanted to talk strategy, there were six NHL coaches - Quenneville, Dave Tippett (Dallas) and assistants Samuelsson (Phoenix), Ladouceur (Toronto), Doug Jarvis (Montreal) and Dean Evason (Washington), along with former Whalers coaches Ley and Jimmy Roberts. If you needed to negotiate a contract, there were agents Mike Liut and Stewart Gavin. If you needed a rubdown, there was trainer Tom Woodcock. If you needed a skate or stick, you could ask Skip Cunningham, an original Whaler.

The whale figurine, designed by artist Karen Rossi of South Windsor, was autographed by the players and will be auctioned to raise money for the Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford, the Whalers' longtime charity.

The idea for the reunion was hatched in December when Evason and the Capitals visited Quenneville in Denver.

"I hadn't seen Dean in years, and when I saw him, I couldn't stop grinning and there was a flashback of memories," Boo Quenneville said. "We'd talked so many years about doing a reunion or another Whalers waltz that we figured we had to do something to get the guys together.

"The years here were too good a time in our lives not to recognize. I don't think even management realized what the team meant to each other."

Francis helped Pittsburgh win two Stanley Cups and is now director of player development for Carolina, but Hartford holds his fondest memories.

"I played a lot of years on a lot of teams, but this team was special in how long we got along, both the guys and the gals," said Francis, the Whalers' No. 1 pick in 1981. "Coming and seeing all the faces, especially all the guys, was just wonderful."

Dineen, coach of the AHL's Portland Pirates, said many people didn't want the weekend to end.

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