Monday, July 16, 2012

2003-04 Hartford Wolf Pack Paul Healey Jersey

July by the Numbers makes it's way to Connecticut for jersey #16.

Founded in 1926 as the Providence Reds, the club played in the Canadian-American Hockey League, which was renamed the International-American Hockey League in 1936 and finally shortened to the American Hockey League in 1940. The club remained the Providence Reds for 50 years, winning Calder Cups in 1938, 1940, 1949 and 1956, before a name change for one season to the Rhode Island Reds prior to relocating for the first time for the 1977-80 season.

1948-49 Providence Reds
The 1948-49 Calder Cup champion Providence Reds

The team's new home was Binghamton, New York where they were named the Binghamton Dusters in reference to their location in Broome County. After three seasons, the club changed it's name to the Binghamton Whalers to reflect it's affiliation with the NHL's Hartford Whalers. In a clever bit of thinking, Binghamton took the Hartford Whalers "W" logo and turned it on it's side, creating a "B", which not only illustrated it's ties to the parent club in Hartford, but saved the team from having to design a new logo of it's own!

Binghamton Whalers logo, Binghamton Whalers logo
The Binghamton Whalers clever recycling of the Hartford Whalers logo

Following the 1989-90 season, the franchise was sold to the New York Rangers, who simply renamed the team the Binghamton Rangers and carried on for seven more seasons until the franchise was on the move for a second time, seizing the opportunity to immediately fill the vacancy created when their former parent club, the Whalers, left Hartford to become the Carolina Hurricanes.

The early 1990's 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.

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.

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!

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.

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 Paul Healey jersey. The Wolf Pack had 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 applying a mix and match program of their own logo or wordmarks done in the classic Rangers drop shadowed font, none more successful than this gorgeous effort.

This particular example finds it's basis in the Rangers classic blue jersey. They then added the name "Wolf Pack" in the Rangers traditional, diagonal style and finished 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.

As this jersey is done so close to the style of their parent club, the New York Rangers, a casual observer may assume it is simply a Rangers jersey, but careful examination will be rewarded with various details, such as the name "Wolf Pack" on the front, the Wolf Pack secondary shoulder logo on one side and the stylish Rangers alternate logo on the other.

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!

Paul Healey, a winger originally from Edmonton has had a well travelled career, having played for 18 teams in 7 leagues in 5 countries! He does have 77 NHL games to his credit, divided between the Philadelphia Flyers (6), the Toronto Maple Leafs (65), the New York Rangers (4) and the Colorado Avalanche (2), with 6 goals and 14 assists for 20 points.

He has also played in the Western Hockey League in Canadian Juniors, the American Hockey League, the International Hockey League and the Swedish, Finnish and Austrian leagues.

During his one season in Hartford wearing today's featured jersey, Healey played 50 games with 11 goals and 10 assists, while his best pro season was in 2001-02 for the Hamilton Bulldogs, when he had 39 goals and 71 points.

Hartford Wolf Pack 03-04 F
Hartford Wolf Pack 03-04 B

Today's video segment is a look back at the early days of the Wolf Pack when their jerseys were more closely aligned with the Rangers, with those being based on the Rangers third Liberty jerseys, both blue and white versions, being particularly attractive.

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