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Welcome Back, Shanny
By Steve Gallichio, Hartford Correspondent

Huddled beneath a stairwell behind section 104 in the Hartford Civic Center on Friday night stood two beer swilling hockey fans, calmly discussing the game at hand. Both sported home white Hartford Whalers jerseys, one a #94 Brendan Shanahan model, the other a #55 Keith Primeau model. No violence broke out - somewhat surprising considering the maelstrom that swirled overhead. All around them, a sellout crowd had gathered to taunt and vilify Shanahan, the former Whaler... just as a sellout Detroit crowd had done to Primeau, the former Red Wing, just four days earlier.

"Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out...
Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about..."

When the great big HAL 9000 in the National Hockey League's New York City offices spit out the league schedule for the 1996-97 season earlier this summer, the only notice the week of November 4th merited was that the Hartford Whalers and Detroit Red Wings would have completed their entire season series by the end of it.

With one stroke on October 9th, the meaning of that week changed dramatically. On that day, the Whalers shipped Shanahan, their former captain and top player, to the Wings along with defenseman Brian Glynn in exchange for Primeau, defenseman Paul Coffey, and a draft pick.

In the span of four days within one month of the trade, all parties got the chance to be greeted by their former home fans.

Shanahan's last game in Hartford as a Whaler ended in early October with a suitcase hurled onto the ice with the note "I packed for you, Brendan" attached to it, the result of Shanny's "this town ain't big enough for both me and my ego" trade demand.

Primeau left Detroit under similar circumstances, having held out of training camp upon declaring his intention to vacate the Motor City after spending six years donning the winged wheel.

While Coffey and another former Red Wing, Stu Grimson, were also making their first appearance against their former team, Shanahan and Primeau were far and away the most popular targets in their respective return visits.

It's nights like these that rules against throwing objects on the ice were made for. Neither sellout crowd held anything back in unleashing their worst. Why all the anger?

In Primeau's case, it was for a young player who had never lived up to his potential but was nonetheless tired of playing third or fourth fiddle on a strong Detroit club.

Jeff Schultz, of Deerborn, Michigan, took the opportunity to visit Hartford-area friends and come out to the Civic Center for the Whaler/Red Wing game. Sporting a #19 Steve Yzerman jersey, Schultz expressed the sentiments of many Detroit fans. "Primeau was a high draft pick who never lived up to his potential. He had the skill but played with no heart. We're sorry to see Coffey go, but not Primeau."

"We're happy with the trade."

If Detroit's fans were delighted to jeer Primeau at every turn and with every mistake, Hartford fans were downright giddy about being worked into a lather over their former captain.

A local radio station ran a contest for the most creative sign hung around the Civic Center's coliseum.

"Money talked. Brenda walked."

"Shanny, kiss my fanny."

"Hey, Shanahan, you'll never dance with Lord Stanley wearing that skirt."

"Shanny, for all you do this skirt's for you."

"Shanahan's a chicken. That's why he plays for the Wings."

And those were just the ones LCS: Guide to Hockey were willing to print. Doubtless, the most "inventive" display award would have to fall to Greg Goodstein, an attorney from West Hartford. Goodstein showed up for the game wearing a #94 Shanahan jersey (borrowed, it turns out), an oversized baby's bonnet, a rattle, and a pacifier.

Wacky Pic
"Diaper Boy"
by Stephen Dunn
The Hartford Courant.
And a diaper. Yup, that's right, a big 'ol diaper, and nothing else. What possesses a grown man, a fine (we think) upstanding citizen, to appear in public wearing little more than he did on the day he was born?

"He's making $3.5 million a year and bitching and moaning about his job and the city, our city. I could have taken the bar anywhere; but I chose to do it here. I take pride in my city.

"If he wanted to leave, he should have gone to Karmanos and not the press. He should have negotiated up front a no trade clause [from St. Louis] or only signed one-year contracts. Sign your contract and shut up.

"He had the opportunity to really make a name for himself here, but he wasn't happy being the big fish in the little pond. He showed no confidence in his ability as a leader."

"He knew what he was doing, he got what he wanted."

With such an indictment of Shanahan by the Hartford faithful, did that sway a Detroit fan's opinion of Shan the Man? Not really, says Schultz.

"We didn't really know the relationship he had with the fans in Hartford. He was there for, what, one year? He was in the other conference. We knew the kind of player he was when he was with St. Louis. That's the player we remember."

And his feeling about sitting in the midst of 15,000 people chanting for the disembodied head of his team's slick new addition?

"I enjoy it. We did the same to Primeau three nights ago. The signs, everything. It's fun. We take it in jest."

And despite Shanahan's professing not to pay attention, other Wings players noticed. "You've got to give the fans of Hartford some credit," Kris Draper said. They've got a great sense of humor. There definitely were some well-written signs up there. When you're sitting on the bench, it kind of made time pass a little faster."

Like most Whaler fans, John Krawshuk wasn't shedding a tear over Shanahan's departure last month, despite having paid upwards of $200 for an authentic Shanahan jersey last season. On this night, he showed up in a brand new #55 Primeau jersey.

"Primeau stood up and said he wanted to be here. Yeah, that makes you root for him a little more."

And what of the Shanahan jersey? "Just hanging in the closet, never to be worn again."

On the ice, it was a straight TKO for the Wings. A 5-1 victory in Detroit, followed by a 4-1 win in Hartford (outshooting the Whale 50-15 in game #2) showed Hartford that they're still out of their depth against the big fishes of the NHL pond. Hartford fans could only take solace that Shanahan figured in none of the scoring. In fact, he was rarely even a factor.

Of course, Primeau, who acknowledged pressing too hard for these games, couldn't even hang his hat on being a non-factor. With a -3 and only one shot to speak of, Primeau admittedly failed to pull his own considerable weight.

"I'm very disappointed with my performance. I let down myself, my teammates and the Whalers organization. For that, I'm mad at myself and extremely disappointed. I though I was prepared to handle the adversity and I wasn't prepared enough.

"We didn't play well, but I didn't step up, and that's what I was brought here to Hartford to do. Step up. I'm very angry with myself."

Whalers coach Paul Maurice understood Primeau's distraction. "I think it was on his mind. No matter who you are, you know it's there and you know it's coming. I would have loved to have an excuse for everybody else."

Now the catharsis is over. It's time to move on, both Shanahan and Primeau agree.

"It has been a roller-coaster week," Primeau said. It's fun to be back playing again regularly, but it's nice to put these two games behind. I can concentrate now on what I can do to help us stay on top of our division."

"It's probably good that these games come relatively early in the season," Shanahan agreed, "and it's probably good that they're in the same week. We can get over with this and get on with the future. I think I'll go get on the bus, fly back home to Detroit, put my feet up and breathe a sigh of relief."

Shanny has left the building. And the Whaler fans don't seem to mind at all.

"He could have his going away party in a phone booth." Krawshuk said.

And what, in the end, did Shanahan learn most from the experience?

"There are a lot of words that rhyme with Shanny."

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