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AHL Anderson enters Hall of Fame with New Haven memories

January 29, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — John Anderson remembered his last hockey game here. He and the New Haven Nighthawks were in town, at what was then the Springfield Civic Center, in 1992 to face the Springfield Indians.

He sat down after the Star-Spangled Banner and heard laughter from players on both sides. The player/assistant coach, then 35 years old, heard more laughs from behind him, head coach Doug Carpenter.

“I go to Stan Drulia, ‘what the heck is so funny?’ He says, ’look behind you,” Anderson said Monday morning as he was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame.

“A guy had run down right against the glass with a sign the size of a bedsheet: ‘Anderson, caution, microwave in use.’ They thought my pacemaker might fail me,” Anderson said as the crowd at MGM Springfield roared. “I honestly wish he was here today: I got a new pacemaker, and it’s microwave-proof, so ha!”

It wasn’t Anderson’s AHL playing career that got him into the Hall of Fame; he’d already had a lengthy NHL career, including four memorable seasons with the Hartford Whalers, before he even played in the AHL.

Still, that year in New Haven stands out. He scored 95 points in 68 games, leading the young Nighthawks, one of the AHL’s last independent teams, to a playoff spot. He was named the AHL’s MVP.

“I was still living in Hartford, and Mike McEwen and I had to drive in from Glastonbury every day,” said Anderson, who’s now an assistant coach under old friend Bruce Boudreau with the Minnesota Wild.

“I was hurt when I came. When I left Fort Wayne (in 1991) I had a really bad charley horse. My leg thought it was broken, so it laid down extra calcium. ... When New Haven signed me, I don’t think they really knew it. The first 10-15 games, I wasn’t 100 percent.”

The Nighthawks started 4-13. When Anderson started feeling better, the team took off, eking its way above .500 by the new year. A couple of six-game winning streaks in the second half got the Hawks into the playoffs, though they lost the first round in five games.

“I want to thank the New Haven Nighthawks,” Anderson said in his acceptance speech, “for resurrecting a could’ve-been-over career. The players and coaches were awesome. They made an old player feel a little bit young again.”

The coaching career that began in New Haven has been pretty fruitful, with five championships in three leagues. After winning the Colonial League championship in 1997, he became coach of the IHL’s Chicago Wolves. They went to three Turner Cup finals in the next four seasons, winning two of them.

When the Wolves joined the AHL with five other IHL teams in 2001, Anderson went with them. Three more finals followed in seven years, including two Calder Cups.

The first came in that first AHL year, surviving without several key players in the opening rounds before rolling through the later rounds and beating the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in five games in the 2002 final.

Also inducted Monday morning were former Hartford sniper Brad Smyth; Murray Eaves, whose Adirondack Red Wings beat New Haven in the 1989 Calder Cup Final; and larger-than-life broadcaster and former AHL player and coach Don Cherry.

Cherry, sadly, had a prior commitment, but Anderson had colorful stories enough for both of them, like the day he was traded from the Quebec Nordiques. They were in Hartford on March 8, 1986, and after the morning skate, Anderson was told he’d been traded. When he asked where to report, they told him to go down the hall: He was a Whaler.

“I walk into the dressing room, and there’s Stewie Gavin, Kevin Dineen. They go, John, what’re you doing in here?” Anderson said. “ ‘I just got traded. I’m playing with you guys tonight.’ Now, everybody went quiet, because nobody wanted to get traded to Quebec. They were just, like, sick.”

Risto Siltanen, who wasn’t in the room, was the return for Anderson, who arrived for the golden era of Hartford’s time in the NHL. The Whalers swept Adams Division-champion Quebec in the first round that year (a big game in the series-clinching 9-4 win felt like vindication, Anderson said), and they won the Adams Division a year later.

“My wife would move back there right now,” Anderson said. “That’s how much she loved it.”

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; http://twitter.com/fornabaioctp; http://blog.ctnews.com/fornabaio

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