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Rocky On Skates
Exploring The Loss Of
The Hartford Whalers
Story By John Murray
Writer Bob Muldoon, a former Whaler employee, writes about loss and redemption in his book, Brass Bonanza Plays Again.
At the heart of any good book is a writer’s passion, It was French cooking for Julia Child, legal thrillers for John Grisham, and big adventure for Ernest Hemingway.
For Bob Muldoon it’s ice hockey, specifically, The Hartford Whalers.
The Whalers broke Connecticut’s heart when they ditched the Nutmeg State in 1997 to relocate in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Whalers were the only professional sports team in Connecticut, and although the state is rabid about UConn basketball, the Huskies can’t bring Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux to town.
The Whalers departure was like getting slapped across the face with a 20 pound sockeye salmon – it left many people in Connecticut stunned, and feeling a bit slimy about themselves. Aren’t we good enough, we wondered
For Muldoon, the departure was personal, he had worked part time for the Whalers for 10 years. His journey began with an impromptu call from his roommate, who worked media for the Whalers, asking if Muldoon would work the penalty box that night. His job was to open and close a gate to allow penalized players to enter and exit a glorified detention center.
Muldoon later drove cars onto the ice during promotions between periods, and began interviewing and writing about the players for the Whaler’s program, Goal Magazine.
While gainfully employed in the insurance business by day, Muldoon worked for the Whalers at night, and began to dream of a writing career. He went on to earn a masters degree from the Columbia School of Journalism and began working at the Register-Citizen in Torrington, CT.
Muldoon is a terrific writer, but covering the police beat in Torrington was not his passion. “I love to write,” Muldoon said, “but I like writing on my own terms.”
In the early 1990s Muldoon worked on a documentary project in Waterbury about murdered prostitutes whose bodies were being dumped along the Naugatuck River in Harwinton. Muldoon combed along Walnut and Grove streets interviewing hookers about their drug addiction, and their fear of encountering the serial killer.
Eventually Muldoon abandoned journalism. He went back to school and earned another masters degree - this time from Harvard - and returned to corporate life.
Five years after the Whalers left for North Carolina, Muldoon went for a long walk with his father and they talked about the Whalers, and Bob’s experience in Hartford. It was a transformational walk for Muldoon who said he “unexpectedly choked up”, and the seed for his novel was planted.
Seven years after that walk Muldoon published “Brass Bonanza Plays Again”, an epic story of the Whalers returning to Hartford and winning the Stanley Cup. The hero of the novel is Tiger Burns, who Muldoon describes as “standing 5’3”, with one-eye, cauliflower ears, and a full-rigged ship tattoo on his chest, his most unusual feature is this: he loves Hartford and its team, the Whalers. In a league where players date super models, ice princesses and Miss Americas, he is a misfit. But in a league of Los Angeles, New York and Boston, so is Hartford.”
Muldoon was recently interviewed on WTIC radio by John Rowland and told 1080 am listeners that his book was more of a “Rocky story, than a hockey story.”
Tiger Burns is a fictional Whaler who blows a game and ends up homeless under the Buckeley Bridge in Hartford. The book chronicles Tiger’s exploits as he rebuilds his life and gets Hartford to believe in itself again.
The book has received several superb reviews. One critic wrote “I laughed, cried and rooted along for the hero”, and yet another wrote, “Muldoon delivers a cast of real and fictional characters around Tiger Burns as he spins a tale of love, dishonesty and redemption with fascinating insight into the history of the NHL, the Whalers and Hartford.”
Muldoon takes the reader into the world of professional hockey and explains in great detail how the NHL evolved, and how Howard Baldwin brought the Whalers to Hartford. It is his ability to weave fictional characters into the brutal and real world of professional hockey that will leave readers entertained and informed.
Muldoon’s use of description drives the book. Consider these -
• While a good fight in hockey lingo “can get a team going”, so too can a body check - and with his low center of gravity, Tiger was a checker nonpareil. Known as avalanche checks, his were the most feared in hockey.
• At the final horn, somewhere in the Atlantic, a whale rose, breached magnificently a last time, and submerged to its grave. On April 13, 1997, The Whale would sleep with the fishes.
• Brass Bonanza, the beloved theme song, was plundered, too. Today the Boston Red Sox play it at Fenway Park and the Boston Bruins do the same. It is as if Colt’s trademark rampant horse weather vane had suddenly appeared atop Faneuil Hall.
• As he bent to leap into the embrace of fans, a frenzied mob from the bench buried him in a green avalanche, Hartford’s “Mall” had become the scene of hockey’s greatest underdog story, and Brass Bonanza played on and on.
Bob Muldoon’s efforts to write and publish Brass Bonanza Plays Again are only slightly less Homeric than the saga of the fictional Tiger Burns. It took Muldoon nine years to write the novel in what he calls “an obsession”.
“Where ever I went I carried notebooks and my 400 page manuscript,” Muldoon said. “My right forearm swelled like Popeye’s.”
And when the book was finished Muldoon was told by publishers in NYC that hockey books don’t sell. Undaunted, Muldoon published the book himself.
I had a magical association with the Whalers and with the city of Hartford,” Muldoon said. “I have a soft spot for underdogs and decided to take up their cause.”
Bob Muldoon now lives in Andover, Massachusetts, and works at a software company in Boston. He still occasionally drives down to Hartford, parks his car, and walks the city streets for 10 to 12 hours.
“Ever lost something you love and never lost hope of getting it back?” Muldoon said. “That’s what my book is about.”
Brass Bonaza Plays Again is available at Amazon.com