When producer Howard Baldwin’s film “Ray” was up for an Academy Award, the former Hartford Whalers owner spent his night at the Oscars sitting next to Adam Sandler. When the actor asked about his WHA championship ring, Baldwin said it would take a book to tell his whole story.
The result, some nine years later, is “Slim And None: My Wild Ride From the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood.” The book gives readers a glimpse of how the Whalers came together, joined the NHL and more.
In the process, Baldwin hopes to conjure up some Whalers nostalgia at a time when the team might be even more popular than it was when it was still in existence.
“There’s nothing worse than being forgotten,” Baldwin said in a recent phone interview. “It meant so much to so many. It’s nice not to be forgotten and for people to realize, ‘Hey this is what happened, this is the way it happened.’ I’m sure a lot of people don’t know how the team originated, but they’ll know after reading this book. It’s just a nice piece of history to always have.”
Baldwin helped found the Whalers in 1971 when he was just 28. The book details how it started with $25,000 pieced together more intricately than a hockey lineup and the pitfalls he and his partners went through just to get on the ice.
Even after going on to win the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and producing movies like “Sudden Death,” “Mystery, Alaska” and “Ray,” Baldwin considers the origin of the Whalers his favourite part of the book, which was released over the weekend.
“We were too stupid to know the difference and we had no fear,” Baldwin said. “That was really fun. I don’t think it can be replicated today because of what the values are today. But that to me was the most fun part of my business life was going by the seat of our pants and trying to get a major-league franchise, quote-unquote, and make it work.”
The book’s title comes from a 1971 Boston Herald hockey column by D. Leo Monahan that was skeptical, to say the least, about Baldwin and Johnny Coburn being able to get a WHA franchise in New England. An Avco World Trophy soon followed, and Baldwin also helped the Whalers join the NHL in the merger as the only U.S. team along with the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques.
Almost 30 years after he sold the Whalers and 17 since they moved from Hartford to become the Carolina Hurricanes, they still have a cult following in hockey. People remember their song, “Brass Bonanza,” and still wear the “HW” logo.
“I think it’s the ninth-best-selling logo in the NHL,” Baldwin said. “The actual franchise is in Carolina but at least in the minds of many, the logo goes on. It’s a franchise whose origins I hope will never be forgotten.”
The book isn’t all good, as Baldwin explains what led to his selling the Whalers and the Penguins filing for bankruptcy. For all the good fortune he had in getting the Whalers off the ground and onto the ice, not everything worked out in his favour.
Beyond Whalers fans, Baldwin hopes the book gets through to young people.
“I hope the book inspires people to follow their hearts a little bit and do things they have passion for,” he said.
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