On the morning after the Atlanta Thrashers dismissed the New Jersey Devils with a resounding statement of renouncement, and as the beleaguered Blueland Nation savors the spoils of this brief, but glorious triumph over some rather beguiling franchise demons, we must now pause to reflect on what this victorious battle means for the future of hockey in Atlanta. Just how could it alter the fate of a struggling franchise that is trying to climb its way from the depths of darkness, despair and ridicule?
For the first time since March 20, 2010*, more than 17,000 fans desperate to believe in Blueland filled the seats of Philips Arena to not only offer their sarcastic thanks and harsh invective to the once ballyhooed face of the franchise, Ilya Kovalchuk, but also witness what they hoped would be a turning point victory for a team that has historically come up short in big “statement” games. On a night when the team mascot would be released from lawful detention as a symbolic message to the hockey world that Thrasherville CAN and WILL rally to support the attendance cause, the Thrashers’ players responded with a convincing and profound message of restored hope, renewed excitement and fulfilled expectations. *Note: I’m very much aware of the fact the last home game of 2009-10 was a sell-out, but at least 1/3 of the arena was filled with Pens’ fans.
At least for one night were expectations fulfilled. Finally, after two consecutive failed attempts to win in regulation (the Thrashers suffered back to back overtime shoot-out losses against Tampa Bay and Carolina) and earn the coveted second point that would catapult them to the top rung of the Southeast Division standings, the Thrashers elevated their game to match the import level of the prize at stake to dismantle a reeling Devils team by the count of 7 to 1 in front of a boisterous and near-capacity crowd at Philips Arena. Led by the “best 4th line in hockey“, the Thrashers blitzed legendary goalie Martin Brodeur with a 4-goal barrage on just 15 shots. The Thrashers were led by pugilist turned goal-scorer Eric Boulton, who netted his first ever hat-trick (and multi-goal game for that matter) in a 10-year career known solely, if at all, for dishing out punishment as part of a grinding, “energy” trio not expected to score goals.
But just like my good friend, and AJC Fan Blogger, Bill Tiller said after “Boultsy” put the finishing touches on an amazing feat of crazy, cosmic luck, the Thrashers had officially entered into the “bizarro world” of hockey phenomena, for on the same night, Rich Peverley, known purely for his gifted skating and slick passing, decided he would attempt to one-up Boulton by dropping the gloves and teaching Eric a lesson on how to execute some of the finer points of the “sweet science”. Truly bizarre indeed. Pretty much the entire sequence of unfolding of events made for a surreal outcome as the Thrashers seemingly managed to cast off a galling shroud of bad luck and misfortune with this win over their devilish nemesis. Not only was Boulton’s 3rd goal the result of a strange twist of fate that saw the puck take a random, hard kick off the boards from behind the goal and past a startled and panicked goalie — former Thrasher Johan “Moose” Hedberg was victimized by an even stranger karmic carom in Game 2 of the 2007 playoffs’ series against the New York Rangers — but the final score seemed like a fitting ironic tribute to erstwhile Thrashers hero, Ilya Kovalchuk, who left the ice beneath a scoreboard emblazoned with a score matching the transposition of his number 17.
For the fans in attendance, it was surely a cathartic release of pent-up frustrations, anger and scorn. For years, the fans have been subjected to the fickle and petty whims of a misguided ownership group. And recently, the relentless rumors of relocation fueled by a frenzied Canadian press have been rampant. And with the Canadian, and even the national American, media agenda buoyed by recent comments in the press by NHL Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly, who continues to question publicly the viability of hockey in the metro Atlanta market, the 7 to 1 spanking of Ilya’s Devils was even sweeter for the citizens of Blueland, who can now enjoy the chance to fire back with a thunderous message of partial vindication that screams out like a chorus of “Mooooooooose” chants at Philips Arena: UP YOURS CANADA!!!
Much work is surely left to be done as the underdog Thrashers attempt to lift up a fan base that has been beaten down repeatedly by a neglectful, often ungrateful and sometimes petulant ownership group. But in the wake of the Thrashers emphatic win over the Devils last night, and their ascendancy into the upper echelon of the NHL standings (did I just type that?), it now seems as though the time is ripe for all fans, both the embittered and unwavering citizens of Blueland, to renew, or solidify their belief in and support of this team. And in so doing, they can convey to the desperate “Octo-cluster” ownership group a powerful and adamant message similar to the one late President Ronald Reagan delivered to Soviet Russia in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin back in 1987:
Paraphrasing of course:
“There is one sign the (dis)Spirit Group can make that would be unmistakable; that would advance dramatically the cause of (passion) and (hope). (Mr. Levenson), if you seek (success); if you seek prosperity for the (town of Thrasherville)…..come here to this gate. (Mr. Levenson), open this gate. (Mr. Levenson), TEAR DOWN THIS (CURTAIN)!” <— Click link for a picture of this travesty, um, I mean tapestry.
Yes, for those who are unaware, the upper reaches of the stands at Philips Arena — the 400-level section of seats –has been partitioned off by the Atlanta Spirit Group since the beginning of the season. In an attempt to apparently mask their own embarrassment over dwindling attendance and their methodical dismantling of hope during the past three seasons of failure, the ASG has erected a black curtain of shame to hide the once popular section of $10 seats. Well, I think it’s just about time that our short-sighted owners take down this damn curtain and open up as many reasonably-priced seats as possible so that the thousands of fans, who are still on the fence about financing further ineptitude on the part of the ASG, can come to Philips Arena and pay a guilt-free pittance to watch some of the most exciting and inspiring hockey ever seen in these parts. In fact, the now first-place Thrashers, who overtook, even if only briefly, the free-falling Washington Capitals with their win last night, play some of the most exciting, fun-to-watch hockey in the entire National Hockey League.
So ASG, do what is right and indeed salutary for your benevolent Blueland backers. Come here to the front of this curtain. Come here, with hat in hand, before the masses of hockey fans who want to believe. Come before them and offer up a gesture of good faith to win back the hearts of those who wish to no longer be exploited for their generosity. Come before Blueland and TEAR DOWN THIS CURTAIN!!!
About the Author: Accountant / Analyst who has a nagging writing addiction when it comes to hockey. I've been a hockey fan since I was a wee tyke and now my allegiance to the Atlanta Thrashers has me "mentally thrashed". My other long-time passion is the game of golf so I'm a glutton for punishment! As a mid to late 30-something, I'm blessed to have a girlfriend who aids and abets my hockey / blogging obsession. Hockey heroes include: Gilbert Perreault, Adam Oates (Go RPI!), Pat LaFontaine and Marty Reasoner. Follow me on the twitter machine @j_barty_party