I posted this over on my Twitter stream, but it's an awesome read, so it totally deserves its own post over here: Marc Savard stick picture not surprising. Maybe if the Whalers hadn't been around when I was growing up, I probably would've been a Bruins fan.
But it was a moment not unlike the one mentioned on Backyard-hockey.com that cemented me firmly and forever as a hockey, and Whalers, fan:
On my first trip to Europe in April 1985, I was walking around Zurich Airport with a classmate, who was wearing a letterman's jacket for our school. You have to remember that in 1985, people just were not traveling as frequently or as widely as they do now. For our class to be taking a trip to Europe was A Big Thing. We had just gotten off a flight from Boston to Zurich and had a couple hours before our connecting flight to Paris.
We'd heard somebody call out our town name behind us, and we looked around, thinking somebody's having a joke on us. We see a couple athletic-looking guys standing there, and one of them repeats the town name, adding, "Connecticut?" as if to clarify that yes, hey you, in the jacket. We're all, "Yeeeahhh?" We couldn't imagine what these guys wanted with us.
And then we discover we're talking to a couple of the Hartford Whalers, or at least, one Hartford Whaler, and a couple other pro hockey players. The guy who had called to us was Kevin Dineen, who had just finished his rookie year in the NHL with the Whalers. They were headed to the World Championships in Czechoslavakia, and here was this NHL athlete, clearly tickled to find a couple kids from a little town in Connecticut walking around the Zurich airport; and here's the two of us, trying not to faint and fall down at their feet in shock that he called us over. Dineen was really nice to talk to, and even signed whatever scraps we dug out of our pockets so we'd have proof we met a Whalers player in the Zurich Airport. The only paper I had on me was the envelope I was carrying my travelers' checks in - by the time I got home 10 days later, that envelope was well-battered, but I've kept it all these years. Then he wished us fun on our trip, and was off to catch his own flight. (25 years later, I'm kicking myself for us not thinking to take a picture with him and his two teammates - as Whalers fans, we were so thrilled to meet him that it didn't even occur to us to ask who the other two guys were!)
Needless to say, that made him my favorite Whaler - and player - from there on out. Since I was the only one in my family who was a hockey fan, I never got to see him play live, unfortunately. (I didn't get to see my first live NHL game until 1999, and the few games in Chicago I did get to between 1999-2003 were not vs. his teams) Despite that, I always followed his career, was thrilled when he returned to the Whalers, and kept an eye on the Carolina Hurricanes during their first two years, mainly because he was Captain there. Each of us has our reasons for our favorite players being our favorites; so this is my story.
I still don't know to this day why he stopped us that day in Zurich. It was a moment I never forgot though, and still think hockey players are the best athletes out there.