The Hartford Whalers, as a new NHL franchise, finally won their first victory on October 19, 1979. Having lost two games and tied two games, the Whalers clearly had a brief period of adjustment transitioning from the WHA (as the New England Whalers). In their fifth game, the Whalers defeated the visiting Los Angeles Kings 6-3. After two losses and a tie, the Edmonton Oilers also achieved their first victory as an NHL franchise that night. The score was exactly the same – the Oilers won 6-3 over the visiting Quebec Nordiques. Both of those teams had also just transitioned from the WHA to the NHL.
The Whalers owed their first victory to Mark Howe, who scored his first two NHL goals (along with an assist). The first was the first goal of the game and the second was the first game-winning goal for the NHL Whalers. His father, Gordie Howe, also had an assist that night. Meanwhile, Oilers’ rookie Wayne Gretzky had three assists.
The Howe son and father had been playing with the Whalers since 1977. They had joined the WHA for the Houston Aeros’ 1973-74 season. Mark Howe began his professional career at the same age as his father, 18, and almost exactly 27 years after his father. That first season, the WHA selected Mark for the Second All-Star Team and Gordie for the First All-Star Team. Mark earned the Lou Kaplan Trophy (as the WHA’s top rookie) while his father (as the WHA’s MVP) was awarded the Gary L. Davidson Award (which was renamed the Gordie Howe Trophy two years later). They (and Mark’s brother Marty) won the Avco Cup that season and the next. By the end of the Whalers’ last season with the WHA, Mark Howe had played 426 regular season games (208G, 296A, 504P).
In the NHL, Mark remained with the Whalers until 1982. A gruesome back injury from 1980 and slow recovery eventually led to Mark skating with the Philadelphia Flyers for ten seasons. In 1992, Mark brought the Howe family full circle when his signed with his father’s first team, the Detroit Red Wings. Mark retired in 1995 having played in 929 regular season games (197G, 545A, 742P). None of Mark’s teams ever won a Stanley Cup championship during his skating years. However, he then worked as a Red Wings’ pro scout, which entitled his name to appear on the Stanley Cup for their victories in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008.
Only two seasons after Mark Howe’s retirement, in 1997, the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes. They won the franchise’s only Stanley Cup championship in 2006, having defeated the Edmonton Oilers in game seven. During the 2018-19 season the Hurricanes are bringing back the Hartford Whalers jerseys for a throwback night on December 23, 2018 when they play host to the Boston Bruins. They will also wear them when they visit Boston on March 5, 2019.
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 286-288 and 291-295.
- Kirk McKnight, The Voices of Hockey: Broadcasters Reflect on the Fastest Game on Earth (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 32-36.