I just don’t know what to do.
On Saturday, I’ll be making the nearly four hour drive to Bridgestone Arena to see the Winnipeg Jets face off against the Nashville Predators. I’m excited to be going to my first NHL game of the year, but saddened that it isn’t at Philips Arena. I’m thrilled to be finally going to an arena to watch a game with fans that I’ve heard nothing but great stuff about. But I’m at a loss as to how to act – what to feel – who to cheer for.
Do I wear my Thrashers jersey? Do I cheer for the Jets? Do I walk down to warm-ups with a beer in hand, take one look at Zach “Norris” Bogosian in a Winnipeg jersey and get a sinking feeling in my stomach? I don’t know. I didn’t feel much catching a bit of the Jets/CBJ game yesterday before listening to the STL game yesterday. I was happy to see Jim Slater back out there after a nasty concussion, and perked up when I heard the words “Chris Thorburn.” It’s automatic, frankly. But they’re not on the Thrashers anymore. They’re not one of my teams.
They’re still players that (for the most part) I care very much about and want to see succeed. They’re guys that I’ve watched for years, always hoping and wanting that they get some sort of attention for how hard they bust their asses. I guess they will now, now that they’re under a microscope. Toby Enstrom’ll get the Norris nomination he’s deserved. Evander Kane and Bryan Little will be part of hockey’s young guns, having praise heaped all over them. Maybe Slater’ll get noticed finally as one of the best face off guys in the NHL. I don’t know. If they do, I’m happy for them as individuals, but frustrated as hell as a Thrashers fan.
I get that playing here recently wasn’t exactly attention-getting for players, or even exciting. The arena’s attendance was dropping. People were tired of the lack of success. But it hurts to see folks all of a sudden becoming fans of this team that they’ve never watched – a team that until recently they didn’t care about or made fun of because of their geographic location. It frustrates Thrashers fans to see this team adored when we all know what team they are. One that we’ve loved for years, yes – but one that we know requires a lot of patience and a good deal of beer to work with.
I suppose that the sudden adoration of the players is expected. They’re playing in a market that lost a team and who has wanted one back for so long. And honestly, I’m happy for those fans up there. Everyone should be able to enjoy hockey regardless of where you are in North America – and that belief makes me happy for Winnipeggers and extremely disappointed for Atlantans. We could have gotten it to work here, but ownership and such strangled the team.
It’s a shame that fans here were marginalized by the NHL, and then basically ignored (not spoken badly of, mind you) by the players after the sale. And that’s the problem. Do I heckle Andrew Ladd who said that the team would have rather’ve played on the road sometimes? Do I let my multifacited frustration with Chris Mason show? I do understand how excited these guys are to be playing in Canada and that it’s been Mason’s lifelong dream to play for a Canadian team. I get that it must not’ve been fun for Ladd to have played in front of dwindling crowds as last season went on – but I’m frustrated with Mason getting pumped up to get out of Atlanta before the sale even happened. As happy as I was to hear Ladd say that he never felt the ownership cared much, is it ok that I was furious at his “we’d rather play on the road” comments? I guess he didn’t notice how things rolled in Chicago – a reason that Dustin Byfuglien’s generally kept his mouth shut about crowd sizes here.
How material is all of that in how I feel about tonight? Do I let myself have fun? Do I let myself get angry at the loss of a team that I cared so much about?
Or do I just go down to the glass during warm-ups on the Jets’ side, and finally – mercifully – say goodbye?