SHORELINE, WA _ Seattle may be feeling the excitement of getting an NHL expansion team, but a rising number of potential fans are hoping to give the new team an old name.
No, not the Metropolitans or Totems - hockey franchises that played out of the Pacific Northwest early in the 20th century - but the Whalers, the name of a more recent team that made its home across the country in Hartford, Connecticut.
A petition being circulated by one local group to name the team the Seattle Whalers and adopt the former team’s green-blue-and-white color scheme and iconic logo already has thousands of signatures. And it’s gaining more steam by the day.
“This is exactly the right time and exactly the right place to revive the Whalers,” said Bosworth Zorn, the petition’s organizer and a commercial crab fisherman and part-time hair stylist from Bellevue. “Everybody is excited for Seattle to finally get an NHL team and everybody loves the Whalers. The colors and name also share a significance with the area and the logo is still a killer.
“It’s a win-win-win-win-win, which incidentally, is what I expect the team’s first five games to be!”
The Whalers began life as the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association in the early 1970’s, and won multiple championships in the rebel league. The team rechristened themselves the Hartford Whalers in 1979 as the WHA folded in 1979 and four of its teams were admitted to the NHL. Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Mark Howe, Ron Francis and Peter Sidorkiewicz played for the Whalers in various seasons.
They played out of the Hartford Civic Center until 1998, but saw little success and diminishing crowds. When a plan for a new arena fell through, owner Peter Karmanos moved the franchise to North Carolina and changed its name to the Hurricanes. The Canes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, a dream the sad sack Whalers never came close to achieving.
But the legend of the Whalers has only gained popularity since the team’s demise. The NHL sells blue-and-green Whalers branded merchandise such as apparel, cookware and medical supplies at its stores and website in variations and volumes that far outstrip what it sold when it was still active. Although largely leaving their legacy behind since moving south, this season the Hurricanes will finally be wearing Whalers throwback jerseys during a regular season game thanks to maverick new owner Tom Dundon.
So what does any of that have to do with Seattle? Turns out the city and team share a long dead industry.
A History of Whale Violence
Whaling in Seattle dates back to 1910 and the arena’s first commercial whaling station at Geoduck Bay.
Sailing between Cape Mary Jane, Oregon and Queen Sryche Island, whalers caught and killed humpback, finback and sperm whales to extract blubber for making oils, teeth for making decorative scrimshaw and meat for making whale steak, a popular Depression-era treat. The industry operated out of locales like Salmon Taint Island and Schrempf Bay until the outbreak of World War II. The United States Navy and Coast Guard bought many of the whaling boats and converted them to aircraft carriers, and the American Pacific Whaling Company ceased operations, using its reserve whale meat to found the Libby’s Vienna Sausage company.
That history is why fans like Zorn feel the Whalers is the perfect name for Seattle’s newest pro team.
A New Legacy
Seattle was awarded the NHL’s 32nd franchise this week, to begin play in 2021. Tons of zany regional names have been kicked around like the Sockeyes, Sasquatch, Soundgarden or Kraken. But the nascent team has a destiny, according to Zorn’s friend and the petition’s co-organizer, Griff Buhner.
“Seattle was long a stronghold of the whaling industry, so the name has more cultural relevance to this place than a few other teams have to their homes,” Buhner says. “No one listens to jazz in Utah and Los Angeles has no lakes. Everyone knows that.”
Even the traditional Whalers color scheme of blue-and-green would fit seamlessly into the Emerald City’s pro sports landscape, with the Seahawks and Mariners already wearing different shades of each color, and the Storm and dear-departed Sonics sporting green as well. A local junior hockey team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, wear the dark blue-green-and-silver base uniform the Whalers used in their final years in Hartford.
Zorn says the Whalers logo might have to change a little because the negative space between the lower “W” and upper whale tail creating an “H” for Hartford. But he has a plan for that, too.
“Build the team an arena on Harbor Island. It’s all just warehouses, chop shops and useless junk anyway,” he says. “There’s your ‘H’. Look, don’t fight me on this.”
So far, Zorn’s petition has over 9,000 signatures and is adding more everyday thanks to tireless efforts of his organizers. Increased exposure through news stories and a website - SeattleWhalersRising.com - have only helped the drive gain traction.
Seattle team ownership, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the NHL have all declined comment on the petition. The city of Hartford, which recently tried to lure the New York Islanders to relocate to the city, are said to be preparing a legal injunction against the petition. But that won’t stop Zorn.
“I am going to make this happen if it’s the last thing I do,” he says. “This will be my legacy for this city. To have (Whalers theme song) Brass Bonanza playing at a Seattle home game while the Whalers win the Cup. These dreams go on when I close my eyes.”
And if it doesn’t work out? Zorn says he has no plan B.
“I thought for a second that maybe they could honor the maritime history of Seattle by making the logo a mean-looking bearded guy in a fisherman’s coat and hat. But that’s just a dumb idea. No pro team would ever go with a logo that ridiculous.”
This is obviously incredibly fake. “Bosworth Zorn,” “Griff Buhner” and Schrempf Bay should have been your first clues. But seriously, this team should be named the Whalers.