Friday, July 26, 2013

2003-04 Hartford Wolf Pack Bryce Lampman Jersey

July by the Numbers travels east for jersey #26.

When the Hartford Whalers of the NHL departed for North Carolina to become the Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Rangers immediately sized the opportunity to immediately fill the void of professional hockey in Hartford with the relocation of the Binghamton Rangers of the AHL for he 1997-98 season.

It was a time when minor league franchises began to realize the value of having their own unique identities, rather than simply adopting the name of their parent club, as had long been the case for many clubs, particularly those in minor league baseball. This opened the door for an increase in revenues from selling their own branded merchandise, such as caps, shirts and jerseys, and creating a stronger connection with their local fanbase, as they could now avoid having to change their name on a periodic basis as their affiliations evolved over time.

With the new approach to independent name for minor league clubs, the franchise was christened the Hartford Wolf Pack for the 1997-98 season following a name the team contest, with the name Wolf Pack being a reference to a class of submarines, as Connecticut is home to the main builder of submarines as well as the US Navy's primary submarine base.

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The club got off to a strong start in Hartford, totaling 99 points in their first season as well as making it to the Calder Cup Semifinals in their first try.

Two seasons later the Wolf Pack led the AHL with a 49-22-7-2 record to lead the league with 107 points as goaltenders Milan Hnilicka and Jean-Francois Labbe combined to hold opponents to just 198 goals, the only team to allow less than 200. The Wolf Pack then eliminated Springfield, Worcester and Providence to reach the finals, where they defeated the Rochester Americans to capture the Calder Cup in their third season in Hartford as Derek Armstrong was named the playoff MVP.

Gernander Wolf Pack
Ken Gernander accepts the 2004 Calder Cup

With a strong supply of players from the Rangers organization, the Wolf Pack was a consistently strong club, with just one season with less than 95 points over the next nine seasons, which included winning Atlantic Division titles in 2003-04 and 2008-09, including four seasons of over 100 points, with their 110 points in 2007-08 setting a team record, thanks to 50 wins in 80 games.

 photo CallahanWolfPack.jpg
Current Rangers captain Ryan Callahan while with the Wolf Pack

Playoff success would remain elusive however, with first or preliminary round exits in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007-2009 and only one trip to the semifinals in 2004, which came up short in a seventh game.

Their average attendance their first two seasons in Hartford was 7,100 compared to 12,500 during the final few seasons of the Whalers. Despite the continued and consistent competitive level of play, their attendance numbers were one long, slow nearly uninterrupted decline, drifting down from 7,100 the year following their championship to 6,700 to 5,800 by 2003. It sank to 4,500 in 2007 and 4,188 in 2009-10 after which the club was sold to Whalers Sports and Entertainment.

Bizarrely, the team started the 2010-11 season still known as the Hartford Wolf Pack, playing 22 games from early October until their return from a five game road trip when the club was re-branded as the Connecticut Whale beginning with their game on November 27th against Bridgeport!

connecticut-whale logo photo connecticut-whalelogo.jpg
The club was rebranded the Whale following a change in ownership

The highly unusual mid-season name (and color) change brought to an end the team's 13 1/4 seasons as the Wolf Pack, leaving behind a history of competitive play and excellent jerseys.

But then something most unusual took place again, as the ownership group who changed the name to The Whale were out after 2 3/4 seasons and it was announced that the franchise would be reverting back to the Hartford Wolf Pack name beginning with the upcoming 2013-14 season!

Pack is back photo Packisback.jpg

Despite the turmoil of the change in ownership and name, the Wolf Pack franchise is actually the oldest continuously operating minor league franchise in North America, as they can trace their lineage back to their formation as the Providence Reds in 1926. This also makes them older than all other professional hockey franchises except the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

1929-30 Providence Reds photo 1929-30ProvidenceReds.jpg
The 1929-30 Providence Reds, the first
championship team in franchise history

Armstrong holds the records for most points in a season with 101, while Brad Smyth has the career mark with 365. Jason LaBarbera's 91 wins lead all goaltenders in Wolf Pack history and Ken Gernander played the most games with 599 first playing for the franchise in Binghamton in 1994-95 and came to Hartford with the franchise when it relocated. In all, he played for the franchise for 11 seasons and was team captain for ten of them. He was named the club's head coach in 2007 and is the only player to have his number retired by the team when they raised his #12 to the rafters.

Today's featured jersey is a 2003-04 Hartford Wolf Pack Bryce Lampman jersey. While many minor league teams have their own unique jersey sets, completely separate from their parent club, others adopt the look of their NHL big brothers, sometimes with very poor results aesthetically.

The Wolf Pack however, have a history of some of the most striking and attractive jerseys in all of minor league hockey, generally taking a basic jersey from their parent club the New York Rangers, and then apply a mix and match program of their own logo or wordmarks done in the classic Rangers dropshadowed font.

This particular example finds it's basis in the Rangers dark blue "Lady Liberty" alternate jersey. They then added the name "Hartford" in the Rangers traditional, diagonal style and finish it off with the name and number customization in the style of the Rangers jerseys to create an instantly familiar-looking, yet brand new style to great affect.

If anything, the Wolf Pack could be accused of overdoing it, as it seems like they have had more jerseys than nearly any team in recent memory. Documenting them all would be a research project that would certainly be a challenging undertaking, as nearly every basic jersey style seems to have been used with a rotation of "Hartford", "Wolf Pack" and the team's wolf head logo at some point!

Hartford Wolf Pack jersey
Hartford Wolf Pack jersey

Today's video segment is a look back at some of the early years of the Hartford Wolf Pack in anticipation of the 2002 playoffs.


This next video is their opening video from the 2009-10 season.


2 comments:

  1. Great article. I've always said that I really like that the Wolf Pack was never completely a "cookie cutter" team like the Sharks, Bruins, or Devils. I do have to correct you on one thing. The team was never sold to Whalers Sports and Entertainment. WSE was hired by MSG to run the marketing side of the team. They submitted the idea that changing the name from the Wolf Pack to the Whale would bring more fans to games. It worked for one season, and then the numbers went back to what they were. WSE was fired because they had 31 lawsuits filed against them for nonpayment of bills. They owe MSG $1.14 million, Reebok about $1 million, the state of Connecticut $250,000, and multiple other companies equaling about $3.5 to $4 million.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article on the Wolf Pack. We are looking forward to next season!
    Wolfiegoalie2@gmail.com

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