Friday, October 7, 2011

Blue Faces in Blueland

In the understatement of the decade, the Atlanta Thrashers will not be remembered as one of the best hockey clubs ever to have claimed membership in the NHL.

The tombstone bearing the Thrashers’ logo will be laid in a patch of parched, sun-baked soil with a loose covering of dry, brown grass somewhere in a desolate country cemetery. If you manage to find the place, you’ll also find the graves of the California Golden Seals, Kansas City Scouts, Colorado Rockies, and Cleveland Barons nearby.

You might also stumble on the grave of the Winnipeg Jets, only to find the coffin dug up and the cadaver removed. In typical Winnipeg fashion, the tombstone would also be vandalized. Rumor has it that the cadaver is currently on display in downtown Winnipeg where mourners are being fleeced for the privilege of seeing the remains of their long, lost loved one before it is returned to its plot once again to enjoy its eternal rest.

The Seals, Rockies, and Scouts may have long since been forgotten, but the tears moistening the soil near the Thrashers’ grave are fresh and very real.

No joy in Blueland today

The Thrashers made the playoffs only once during their 11-season life span and they didn’t even win a single game during their one-season fling with post-season play in 2007. The franchise is probably best known outside of Georgia for the tragic incident in which Dan Snyder was killed in October 2003. The Thrashers led a tortured life, abused for so long by the Atlanta Spirit Group, who treated it and its fans so badly during its final years of life, not unlike what Winnipeggers experienced with the Jets years ago and what they’re about to experience in the years to follow.

Nonetheless, there were fans who cared for the deceased Thrashers and cared deeply. Any Winnipeggers who went through the Save the Jets campaign in the spring and summer and 1995 knows all too well the deep emotional pain that comes with losing a hockey team.

Sadly, far too many Winnipeggers have chosen to tuck those memories away in a cardboard box and wag their fingers in the faces of Thrashers fans whose pain is no less real than their own.

We cried as we remembered watching Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, and Teemu Selanne. No doubt, Thrashers fans will feel the same way when they think back and remember watching Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Kari Lehtonen, Dany Heatley, and the late Dan Snyder at Philips Arena.

The short-lived merriment of Winnipeg hockey fans and the team’s domineering owner comes at the expense of hockey fans just like themselves. Are there as many of them? Maybe. Maybe not. But they are there in significant numbers, far more than they’re being given credit for.

The classier fans among the revelers this weekend will keep them in their thoughts while they look upon the dawning of a new and very uncertain era in Winnipeg hockey history. This era is likely to produce no more success on the ice than the last NHL team to call Winnipeg home enjoyed and could end up becoming very costly to both fans and Manitoba taxpayers alike.

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