So Long, Farewell

I’m sad to say it, but the Atlanta Thrashers relocating last year and now this year’s NHL lockout have killed my love for hockey blogging. It’s been a fun few years doing this, but I’ve moved on to other things.

I’m now blogging exclusively at my personal website Allyson Blogs the World. Drop by and say hello!

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How to Take Relocation Like a Champ

The Phoenix Coyotes are on the chopping block. No really, they are. Yell at me and threaten me all you like, stick your head in the sand in denial, but it will happen eventually. The Coyotes are being matched or exceeded in attendance by their ECHL affiliate the Gwinnett Gladiators (who pulled 10,082 at a home game on February 4th). The only reason they’re still in Glendale is that the city counsel has forked over a total of $50 million in taxpayers’ money over the past two years to keep the team there. No one local wants to buy them because they’re a poor business venture. These facts may sound like insults to some of you, but it’s time for some real talk about relocation.

I am/was an Atlanta Thrashers fan so I have a pretty good idea of how this rolls. I could sit here and tell you it should’ve been the Coyotes going back to Winnipeg, but I could also give you a million reasons why the Thrashers deserved relocation too. Instead, I’ll just offer up some friendly advice: been there, dealt with that, the world doesn’t end when it’s over. Trust me. It doesn’t. Not for fans, anyway.

For a passionate fan it’s definitely not a fun time, because you actually care about that mismanaged, falling-apart mess of a team. Your social life is centered around going to games. The media’s getting everything wrong and it feels like all of Canada is breathing down your neck. Suddenly you want to spout off hateful things about maple syrup and lumberjacks.

There are more mystery “potential buyers” than you can shake a stick at and some local sports hero just came forward saying he’s “interested in finding buyers” but doesn’t want to help buy the team himself. You get your hopes up every time a little tidbit comes out, only to have those hopes dashed all over again. It’s like the worst high school break-up ever times a thousand, and the Canadian media came to gawk at you (how dare they).

Before you rage against the injustices of it all in a series of ill-timed tweets please, please get some perspective. What you as a fan have to lose in this business — because it is a business after all — is miniscule when put up against what organization employees and players will most definitely lose.

In Atlanta, I witnessed up close and personal the employees who found themselves out of a job because the new ownership didn’t want them or moving to Winnipeg was out of the question. There were also the players who had built lives here with their families, and were faced with either uprooting their familes or maintaining long distance marriages. By comparison, I was losing very little as a fan.

Another thing to remember is that team relocations happen for a reason. In Atlanta’s case it was absentee owners and poor management among a myriad of other reasons I won’t bore you with here. Fans stopped showing up until eventually it was just the crazy die hards and the transplants who turned out to see their respective home teams. Eventually the absentee owners got tired of losing money hand over fist, so they found a buyer and well, you know the rest. Relocation doesn’t just happen because Gary Bettman is evil, as much as we would like that to be the case.

Looking at the situation intelligently is a lot better than sticking your fingers in your ears and going lalalala. Okay, so I did the latter for a while last year, but eventually reality sinks in and frankly, you can be the bitter a-hole fan about it or you can use your hockey smarts to comment on the situation. One of these things will keep you loving the game past when relocation happens. Don’t be “that guy” ranting and whining about how you didn’t deserve to be “robbed” of your team. Enough of those guys get together and you have a roving gang of Nordiques fans protesting at every arena within driving distance. None of that, please.

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The Year in Arenas

2011 found me at the airport a lot, always headed somewhere for hockey. The sport has become a great way to meet new people, make friends and see new cities. 2011 was also the year I “branched out” and learned about hockey at levels other than the NHL. I’m now an unrepentant ECHL supporter, and I’m also hoping that 2012 will see a better future for my NCAA Division I UAH Chargers. 2011 was also the year that Atlanta lost its NHL team a second time. I’ve attended hockey games in eight cities and been inside nine arenas this year.

1. Philips Arena (Atlanta, GA)

For nearly eight years this was my hockey base camp and the center of my social life. It’s where I grew to love hockey and where I learned everything I know about the sport. I could probably run through the place blindfolded. Even though hockey is no longer played there, I’ll always have fond (and some not so fond) memories of the place. Also, flaming bird heads, you guys.

2. RBC Center (Raleigh, NC)

Otherwise known as tailgate central! Tailgating before sports games is a long-held Southern tradition, but folks in North Carolina take it to a whole other level. I road tripped here in February to see the Atlanta Thrashers lose to the Carolina Hurricanes, but it was a fun time because the Hurricanes Fan Club always has a barbecue spread waiting for visiting fans. Southern hospitality, y’all.

3. Joe Louis Arena (Detroit, MI)

I fell in love with this concrete bunker the second I walked inside. It’s old and a little worn around the edge, but it’s impossible not to have a fun time in this place. Seeing the Detroit Red Wings, one of my not so secretly favorite teams, win on their own turf was a blast. I wrote all about my visit over here.

4. Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia, PA)

Here’s where I saw my first playoffs win. I hauled up to Philadelphia totally on impulse to see the Flyers take on the Buffalo Sabres in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals. It was a total madhouse, just like I expected Philadelphia to be.

5. Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, MN)

[no picture of my own, whoops!]

I’m not sure if this one counts, because I didn’t actually attend a game here. Instead, I was there for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and while I can’t really comment on the arena itself, I can say this was by far my most memorable hockey trip ever.

6. Nassau Coliseum (Long Island, NY)

If anyone had told me beforehand that I’d be starting my 2011-2012 NHL season in Long Island I probably would’ve laughed. But it was a fun place to take in a game, especially third row off the glass behind the benches.

7. The Arena at Gwinnett Center (Duluth, GA)

This is where hockey still lives in Metro Atlanta. Sure it’s at the ECHL level but it’s fun and there’s always a pretty strong turn out attendance-wise. The Gwinnett Gladiators are currently first in their division and going strong. I try to make it up on the weekends for games but a 120 mile round trip drive isn’t something I can do all the time.

8. Von Braun Center (Huntsville, AL)

This is home to the UAH Chargers, the little Division I hockey team that could. Despite being disbanded, the team has been reinstated before even completing what would have been their final season. Hopefully, Von Braun Center will see many more college hockey games in the future.

9. Bridgestone Arena

I finished out my year of hockey arenas at the home of the Nashville Predators. This is a place a Southern hockey fan could get used to.

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Hockey-tonkin’ in Smashville

Ah, my internet is finally working (*waits for it to crash because she typed that*) so I can bring you the latest of my many hockey road trips from 2011.

Driving into downtown Nashville two weeks ago was an experience. My boyfriend and I pulled onto the main drag just as fans were pouring out of Bridgestone Arena to celebrate the Predators’ victory over the Detroit Red Wings. There were people in jerseys everywhere, walking under the neon lights to pack every honky tonk on the street. Then someone let out a loud “Red Wings suck!” to a flurry of celebratory car horns. This, my friends, is hockey in the South and everything Atlanta never was. I felt like I’d come home.

Nashville reaffirms my long-held argument that hockey can thrive anywhere given the right amount of love, attention and proper marketing. The Predators have an obviously stellar PR team that has branded the city “Smashville,” evoking hockey’s violent side that easily appeals to the strong football culture in these parts. Billboards featuring Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne invite fans to go “hockey-tonkin’.” So not only are there, you know, visible signs of giving a damn, but the Predators organization has taken the time to brand the team in a way that speaks to local people.

And oh my goodness, the locals are nice, showing the type of genuine Southern hospitality that’s sorely missing from Metro Atlanta these days. The View From 111 and Preds On The Glass both extended warm welcomes. It was a treat to see my Northern boyfriend get the full Southern hospitality experience. At our best in this region we’re well-mannered and inviting, and that feeling was reflected in the pre-game gathering of Predators and St. Louis Blues fans, all friendly and sharing drinks.

Bridgestone Arena itself was nothing short of amazing, all decorated in Predators yellow and blue. The place was packed with fans; it may not have been a sell-out but it was damn near close to one. And there was plenty of razzle dazzle to get the crowd pumped. I can’t stress enough how plain it is that the franchise truly cares about building a strong fan base. For crying out loud, the team skates out of a giant sabertooth tiger head at the beginning of each game. Once the game — a nail-biting 2-1 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues — was over, this massive crowed poured out onto Broadway looking for places to celebrate and drink.

If you honestly think ice hockey can’t work in the South, I invite you to check out Nashville where, in just a little over a decade, the Predators have managed to carve out a niche in this little Southern city. It amazes me that not only is the team in Nashville but it has become a part of Nashville. The city and the team share an identity, and that my friends is how you win over Southern fans.

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Hockey Lives Again in Huntsville!

Toss off that black band, boys and girls! Hockey is staying in Rocket City.

Good things really can happen to Southern hockey.

Back in October I wrote about everyone’s favorite person Chancellor Malcolm Portera axing the hockey program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. This was a huge blow to hockey in the South since it has been the only Division I college hockey program in the region. But just as we were all getting getting ready for the funeral, some good news broke: a grass roots effort to save UAH hockey has worked.

According Paul Gattis of the Huntsville Times:

Members of The University of Alabama in Huntsville administration met this evening with hockey supporters, following discussions with Chancellor Malcolm Portera, and came to a consensus to work closely together to pursue institutional and community support to continue UAH hockey at the Division I level.

I did a double take when I read it. And then I did a happy dance (oh yes, I did). A grass roots effort actually worked? This is wonderful. Awesome, even! Save UAH Hockey didn’t give up, and their tireless effort paid off. Supporters can breathe a sigh of relief that the program will continue past the 2011-2012 season.

Gattis wrote in a follow-up piece that plans haven’t been finalized but should be worked out soon. Also, Save UAH Hockey has reportedly received pledges to raise more than $500,000 to subsidize the program that Portera says costs the school $1.5 million annually.

I suspect the chancellor’s sudden change of heart has something to do with rumblings that UAH wants to break away from the UA system. It’s a sentiment in Huntsville brought on by a lot more than the hockey program’s initial fate, but I don’t doubt that axing the hockey team intensified the situation.

Sure, there’s still that pesky conference issue to work out, but one step at a time right? Portera recanting is already a huge victory. Hats off to Save UAH Hockey for proving that sometimes when you fight hard enough, you win.

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Atlanta Spirit Continues to Erase Thrashers History

The Thrashers weren’t a great team by any stretch of the imagination, but they still existed and played for 11 seasons at Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta. I thought y’all might need a reminder since the powers that be from here to Winnipeg seem hell bent on pretending the team never played a game in this city.

Don’t believe me? Listen to any broadcast of any Winnipeg Jets (2.0) game and bask in the warm glow of revisionist history as we hear how the Jets haven’t played in such and such arena in 15 whole years! Um, I’m pretty sure these Jets played in your arena last season. Still, Winnipeg and other media aren’t the only ones rewriting or just plain ignoring history.

A mural commemorating the 2008 NHL All-Star Game held at Philips Arena covered the wall at the CNN Center entrance and stood as a reminder that this city once hosted one of the league’s biggest events. Some of us were hoping that maybe the Atlanta Spirit would want to leave that standing, but reports quickly spread through Twitter today that it just wasn’t the case.

Here’s what it looked like (via @JoeYerdonPHT)

And here’s what it looks like now (via @FINISHDAMISSION)

While I understand that all things Thrash needed to go once the franchise changed ownership and subsequently its name — for copyright reasons or what have you — it’s still rough to see the perfunctory way everything even remotely related to the team’s Atlanta roots has been erased. It’s as if the Atlanta Spirit couldn’t get rid of it all fast enough — painting over the All-Star mural, literally “whitewashing” history as my friend Laura says, just added further insult to injury. And of course, the hockey media for the most part seem perfectly happy to have the Winnipeg Jets “back.”

Most of all, though, there’s a sad finality to seeing a picture of that now blank wall. It’s something I won’t see in person any time soon, because life has taken me away from Atlanta and CNN Center/Philips Arena is no longer a part of my daily routine. Not that I would actively seek out that kind of masochism anyway. It’s depressing and hitting on feelings that I’m trying to keep buried under this cool facade of understanding the business side of the whole deal. Really, I do understand the business side of why the Thrashers relocated, but this long-time Thrashers fan doesn’t have to be happy about it.

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Now Writing For…

Things have changed a bit in my hockey blogging universe.I’m now writing weekly Gwinnett Gladiators reports for Five For Howling, the Phoenix Coyotes site on SB Nation.

Also, I’m attempting (emphasis on attempting) to start up a Southern hockey site called Fried Checkin’. It’s still slow going at this point, and we’re still in need of more writers and a graphic designer. If you’d like to help out contact me via this site.

I’m now tweeting solely from my personal account, which has been renamed @allyblogsworld. As always, thanks for reading y’all!

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