As I mentioned in a previous post, Saturday night was my first time seeing the Thrashers in person since the move. It’s amazing what a change in logo and scenery can do.
Before I get started with any sort of reflection of how I felt at the game, let me say this: Nashville does hockey right. Frankly, that was my biggest impression from the trip, and the top thing I’ve taken away from it – they are exactly what the Thrashers should have been had Atlanta had owners who cared and a marketing department who knew what they were doing. I think there were more people in Bridgestone Arena for the Preds’ home pre-season opener than there were in the three preseason games the Thrashers had at Philips last year. People are very, very much into this team. The Preds’ve marketed themselves as part of Nashville, not just a team located in Nashville. “Hockey Tonkin’?” You don’t get much better than that. Live country band between periods? Awesome Corporate sponsorship out of the ying yang? Something that was on the wane every single year with the Thrashers. An actual clean, well maintained arena? Bridgestone Arena blows Philips out of the water. It’s smaller, and the concourses are tighter, but they’ve managed to shove more stuff – including actual open concession stands – into that place than Philips attempted to. Also, the TVs are updated to this century. It’s the little things, really, that tip you off how much ownership cares about a team, and walking into Bridgestone I was basically smacked in the face with caring.
Warm-ups were really the only part of the game where I felt like my stomach hit the floor. When the guys skated out, it was extremely surreal. It was the same team – with most of the same prospects as we’ve seen in Atlanta – but they weren’t ours anymore. It’s hard to explain, but it was very clear that the ties were cut. These players are hockey players who I will always appreciate, follow, and wish success for, but it’s not my team anymore.
Seeing them in the Winnipeg Jets jerseys made closure easier. Thrashers fans never got a chance to actually say goodbye and thank you to the team, because so many held out hope that we’d have a chance to see them back in Philips in September. This was a great chance to see them and have the fact that we won’t have NHL hockey in Atlanta this year made more evident, and frankly for those of us there, it’s what was needed.
Most of the game was spent getting irritated at ownership the more I let the killer atmosphere in Nashville sink in. If you don’t think hockey can work in the South, please make it to a Predators game. It works – like a lady we spoke to before the game said, she never thought she’d be a hockey fan, but then she went to a game. All it took was one game, and she was hooked. It takes ownership who cares and who have ties to the community to make sure that those people who are hooked have even more of a reason past the excellence of the sport to attend games. You have to have an emotional investment.
Much like seeing someone who dumped you for the first time afterwards, Thrasher fans who were there last night got a chance to be reminded that an emotional investment had come to an end. We looked back, remembered the good times, and then realized it’s time to move on. For a lot of fans, Nashville might be the rebound relationship they were looking for – God knows the Preds went a’courtin’ last night. For me, personally, I have the Blues, but I’ll always be thankful for having the Thrashers for eleven years.
But the time has come to say goodbye.