A Georgia Memory
by Avry Lewis-McDougall
One day, when I am old and grey I will tell my children about Atlanta, Georgia having a National Hockey League Franchise that turned into the current Winnipeg Jets and then I will be promptly laughed at most likely.
There’s a new generation of Jets fans in the NHL and I’m glad as there should be, but I wonder if their previous incarnation as the Atlanta Thrashers will get any of the nostalgia treatment that other defunct NHL clubs get.
The Quebec Nordiques are looked upon fondly because of a ravenous fan base that saw the game as religion just as much as their provincial rivals in the Montreal Canadiens and had stars in their lineup like Peter Stastny and Michel Goulet.
The Hartford Whalers have a similar story to the Nords and once had Gordie Howe and his sons playing together to create hockey history.
Their old goal song Brass Bonanza still gets played at arenas all over North America and there’s Facebook and twitter groups hoping one day that the NHL returns to the city.
The California Seals/Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals/Cleveland Barons were such a gong show throughout their existence that people remember them and hey, they had some of the nicest jerseys in NHL history.
But where will the Thrashers go in the test of time?
Did they have much playoff luck? Not really. Only one trip to the postseason and they lost in 4 games to the Rangers in 2006-07 but they did win the Southeast Division that year.
Did they have a Hall of Fame worthy head coach? None that I would say destined for the Hall but Bob Hartley found a way to have a record of over .500 while behind the bench with them.
Was the arena at least packed? Negative. Most seasons Atlanta was stuck in the bottom of the league for attendance, with their last year 2010-11 having an average attendance of just over 13,000 fans which saw them at 28th in league attendance.
Atlanta did draft one of the greatest Russian players of the modern era in the form of Ilya Kovalchuck, and a future 50 goal man in the form of Dany Heatley.
Kovalchuck is the Thrashers all time leader in games played, goals, assists, hat tricks, game winning goals and powerplay goals. They really should have just renamed the team the Atlanta Kovalchuks.
The team also struck gold by drafting Dany Heatley from the University of Wisconsin.
Heatley was the Thrashers 1st pick in the 2000 draft and shortly there after tore up the league as a rookie setting the franchise record for points by a rookie with 67 in 2000-01.
2002-03 saw him record his first 40+ goal season to go along with 48 helpers for an 89 point campaign and he truly becoming one of the faces of the league.
There still are some players on those Thrashers who are active on Winnipeg in the form such players as Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler and Jim Slater.
This was a franchise that also had some great role players and NHL legends throughout it’s history also.
Ray Ferraro spent a year with Atlanta. Kelly Buchberger was the franchise’s first captain. The Thrashers were the final NHL stop for Hall of Fame blue liner Chris Chelios in 2010 when he became the 2nd oldest player in league history at the age of 48.
One of the all time busts in NHL history was also once Thrashers property in the form of one Mr.Patrik Stefan. His playing days may not have been as spectacular as many thought it would have been but he’s thriving in his second career as a player agent.
Just as much as Jets fans were jubilant when they had confirmed word that they were getting a team again, there were fans in Atlanta upset at once again losing the NHL. (The Calgary Flames moved from Atlanta in 1980).
I hope the memory of this franchise does stand the test of time, they may have not been a team that everyone remembers fondly but they left an indelible place in league history.