By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The new owner of the Carolina Hurricanes has a soft spot for his team’s old identity — the Hartford Whalers.
In the month since Tom Dundon assumed control of the Hurricanes, they’ve brought back the old “Brass Bonanza” fight song, stocked the shelves in the team store with that beloved whale-tail logo and have discussed bringing back the Whalers, too — if only for a future turn-back-the-clock night.
Under his leadership, the Hurricanes have done a 180-degree turn in the way they view, market and appreciate their past.
“It’s ours, right? I mean, it’s who we were. It’s part of the history,” Dundon said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“To me, it makes a lot of sense. … This was too easy. ‘How could I not?’ was probably the better question.”
In the month since Dundon bought a majority share of the team from longtime owner Peter Karmanos Jr., the 46-year-old Dallas businessman has made several changes — most visibly, the embracing of who the Hurricanes were before they became the Hurricanes.
That’s a drastic shift from their approach under Karmanos. He purchased the Whalers in 1994 and moved the franchise to North Carolina three years later, never looking back after seven consecutive losing seasons in Connecticut and complaints about attendance at what was then known as the Hartford Civic Center.
That’s not the case anymore.
The Hurricanes are selling Whalers T-shirts and jerseys — with that distinctive “H” formed in the empty space between a “W” and a whale tail — in their team store. They occasionally play “Brass Bonanza” during stops in play. And Dundon says he’s working with the league on a plan to “wear the uniform and sort of make it part of what we do” as part of a nostalgia night.
“I think it’s really good-looking stuff, so for me it was like, this is great gear, and this is where we’ve come from, and you know, I think it’s fun,” Dundon said. “And so for me, this is supposed to be fun, it’s entertainment, and we’re supposed to care about the team, and you see something like that that looks good and creates something to talk about and something to enjoy.”
Not surprisingly, the Whalers’ identity has long had a strong sentimental attraction throughout the hockey world — especially in their former home.
The state of Connecticut is selling Whalers license plates for $60 to help fund new facilities at a children’s hospital. And just last week, Gov. Dan Malloy issued an open letter to Dundon to invite the Hurricanes back to the Hartford area for an outdoor game at Rentschler Field, the UConn football team’s home field, or to play a regular-season game at their former home rink.
Wrote Malloy: “In short, the Whalers’ spirit is alive and well in Hartford.”
In North Carolina, though, Dundon’s arrival and subsequent appreciation for the team’s green-and-blue past has brought some buzz back to a team that is making a push for just its second playoff appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. He also has quashed those pesky, persistent relocation rumors that have plagued the franchise for years.
Dundon says his fans-first ownership style was influenced by a pair of Dallas-based team owners — Mark Cuban of the NBA’s Mavericks, and Jerry Jones of the NFL’s Cowboys. He “had a front-row seat to everything they did” as the Mavericks transformed from cellar-dweller to NBA champion.
“I saw what they did with that brand over 10 years, and I don’t think anyone would have believed that the Mavericks could ever be what they became,” Dundon said. “And with the Cowboys … Jerry has a constant focus on engaging fans and bringing attention to that brand. He thinks, probably, way bigger than I do and takes bigger risks. He’s just a genius at how he operates that team. So I’ve watched these things. I don’t think I’m going to do anything exactly like anyone else, but I’d like to think I can learn from seeing it.”
“We want to make sure that the team’s interesting, and we’re interesting, and right now the story is, the team’s going to make the playoffs and there’s an ownership change,” Dundon said. “Hopefully in the future, it’s about all the winning we’re doing.”
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