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For Hartford Whalers fans, nowhere to go but all dressed up

Next year at the Civic Center. So believe the faithful fans of the Hartford Whalers, the diehards who gather every year at a Hartford restaurant to pray for the return of the city’s National Hockey League team, which moved away 17 years ago. As the Globe reported on Sunday, some fans have gone as far as to put down deposits at a local bank for the season tickets they plan to buy when the team returns to the arena (now renamed the XL Center).

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The Whalers’ continued popularity is testament to three powerful forces: nostalgia, good graphic design, and Connecticut’s never-ending identity crisis. Wedged between New York and Boston, the Nutmeg State is divided in its pro baseball, football, and basketball loyalties. But until the Whalers moved to North Carolina in 1997, Connecticut residents at least had a hockey team to hold them together.

Even today, Whalers merchandise at times outsells that of some still-existing NHL teams. Yet it’s not just Whalers dead-enders who keep sales of hats and jerseys strong. The team’s distinctive 1970s-vintage logo, designed by Peter Good, has acquired a kind of retro appeal to people who wouldn’t know the Civic Center from Gampel Pavilion. If the NHL ever does return to Connecticut, many potential customers will already have the right outfits.

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