The Other Overtime Goal.
Overshadowed by the infamous "Claude Lemieux goal" that ended the Whalers' playoff run in 1986 (seventh game, Montréal, deadlocked after three periods, you know the story) is another overtime goal in Montréal that sent the Whalers packing for the spring. Russ Courtnall scored at 5 minutes, 26 seconds of the second overtime to lift the Canadiens to a 3-2 victory over the Whalers in the decisive seventh game of the 1992 Adams Division semifinal playoff series. The ghosts in Montréal Forum had the last laugh on the Whalers, but that night they were laughing at goaltender Frank Pietrangelo. My favorite Whaler was the best player in that series, carrying the Whalers to Game 7 almost single-handedly.
Some swear they saw the puck slip beneath the ice and resurface in back of Pietrangelo. And then it was over.
It was the last playoff game for the Whalers. The effects of a strike by the NHL Players Association and the string of disastrous trades were felt at the gate: the Whalers drew an average of 8,354 in three playoff games against the Canadiens, including one game where only 5,602 showed.
They never seem to want to let us forget it, either.
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Interested in learning more about hockey? Skate the Web at the NHL's official site
Read the Bible: The Hockey News
Check up on the latest news at ESPN's Sportszone (subscription-based service)
Looking for a jersey? I recommend River City Sports in Winnipeg
Check out some impressive shots at the Hockey Image Archive
See what other people say about losing their team at this Minnesota North Stars site
See what other fans are saying about goalies
Why the Whalers...and Who the Heck is Frank Pietrangelo?
People, especially those who know anything at all about hockey, keep asking me: "Why the Whalers? And what on earth does Frank Pietrangelo have to do with it?"
Okay, the Whalers did not exactly have a long history as a great team. Sports writers flogged them mercilessly. They didn't get to the playoffs in their last five years in Hartford, in a league where everyone goes to the playoffs. They played in a mall. Their financial situation was shaky and every day brought a new rumor about where the team would move, next year, in two years, before Shavuot: Nashville. Houston. St. Paul. Columbus, Ohio, to play in an abandoned airplane hangar, for God's sake. Worrying about the Whalers became a full-time job. And finally it happened: Baby Whale was snatched from its crib and spirited away to the very last place anyone could have guessed: Raleigh, North Carolina.
And Frank Pietrangelo? His best days were probably spent as Tom Barrasso's backup in Pittsburgh, when they won the Stanley Cup in 1991. But Frank and the Whalers are inextricably linked for me; without Frank, there would be no Whalers. (I am torn as to whether or not I should be grateful.)
I was a late convert to the Whaler faithful; four years, maybe five, but in that time the team came to mean so much to me. It wasn't an easy few years: a lot of disappointment, a lot of unhappy days, and finally a lot of heartbreak. Someone once said they'd met Mario Lemieux, who, when introduced to a real live Whalers fan, smiled and said "Strong soul." That turned out to be an understatement.
That said, I don't believe there's anything that could compare with the thrill of seeing the team play well, winning a game, shutting down a hated rival. Had the Whalers won the Stanley Cup, I don't believe I could have be any happier than I was when they beat the Bruins. Maybe it's just that the good times were so few and far between that they tasted all the sweeter; maybe our expectations were just so damn low we feasted on every crumb. But are, say, Red Wings fans any happier when their team wins? I don't think so.


I bought these signed Frank cards for a buck. Clearly the seller had no idea what priceless objects he had.
I'm not a great hockey statistician or historian; I didn't follow this team for very long. I didn't live through those dark years of bad trades and bad management. I wasn't here when the roof fell in at the Civic Center, figuratively and literally. I'm a Whaler parvenu, really. To me, Ron Francis is a Penguin and Rick Ley is a coach the Canucks fired. I came to this team when they were pretty miserable, and I watched them get a little better every year -- not fast enough for some, and not fast enough to save themselves.
I was a hockey fan when I was young -- the North Stars, Lou Nanne, Bill Goldsworthy, Gump Worsley; and the Rangers, Walt Tkachuk, Brad Park.... (I was just an idiot child and cannot be held responsible for my taste.) My severe hatred then was reserved for the thuggish Bruins, and of them my most bitter disgust was directed toward Derek Sanderson. I still remember the opening from one of the chapters in Brad Park's autobiography: "Boston Garden is a zoo." When he was traded to the vile Bruins I thought the world had ended; but in my juvenile way, my greatest concern was how he would make friends in Boston when he had said so many terrible things about them.
I lost interest after that, occasionally keeping an eye on the North Stars and the Minnesota Gophers, especially when I went to college in hockey-mad Duluth, but since then I pretty much kept my nose to the career grindstone. Until a few years ago, when through some series of circumstances I ended up at a Whalers game. I don't remember much beyond this: they were playing the Nordiques, they lost, and in goal was a guy named Frank Pietrangelo, a name that dredged up some vague memories of my college days and games at Mariucci Arena. There can't have been two people with a name like that, I thought, so I did some digging and found out that, indeed, this was the same goaltender who played for the University of Minnesota in the 1980s. And that was all it took: that rush of familiarity, that feeling of running into a long-lost friend, made me a Whalers fan, then, now, forever. Don Jose is thrown the acacia flower and his fate is sealed. Seeing Frank Pietrangelo play that night made 10 years of indifference vanish.
Frank didn't make much of a contribution in his time with the Whalers; hell, he didn't make much of a splash in the NHL, although he did play on the Penguins' 1991 Stanley Cup team and still ranks as one of the Gophers' top career goaltenders. (And he got his picture on a Wheaties box, with the rest of the Penguins' Stanley Cup team.) He was traded to the Whalers in 1992, where he played for two years before being picked up by the Islanders, who promptly loaned him to the Minnesota (now Manitoba) Moose of the IHL. But favorite players are not always about goals-against averages, or plus-minus, or raising money for charities. Sometimes it comes down to stupid, intangible things; for me, it's things like Mike Peluso bawling when his Devils were about to win the Stanley Cup in 1995, or Kevin Dineen, because you can see the sheer joy he gets out of playing, or Frank Pietrangelo, just for being in goal that night.
So Frank, if you're out there, I've set aside this corner of cyberspace to say "thank you." Thanks for giving me back hockey, even if it had to be the ever-confounding Whalers. They are a tremendous part of my life now, and I owe it all to you.

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