Hockey Night in Atlanta

The Blue Crew!

This season marked two momentous and yet unhappy events in the world of Atlanta hockey. The first is well-known: the hapless Thrashers have left town with barely a whimper and are to start next year in the Southeastern climes of Winnipeg. The Thrashers’ problems were, of course, legion. In a league that relies so much on merch sales, having a team where no one knows what the team name even means was probably a bad call, for instance. The lame corporateish colours and those butt-fugly uniforms (the one with Buttfuglien’s name on the back, I swear, is some kind of platonic ideal) probably didn’t help, either. But I have to think, the main issue had to have been the team’s location: Atlanta is just not a hockey town. Let’s admit it, watching sports is at least partly a matter of nostalgia, for either playing the sport, or at least watching it, as a kid (and either MMA is an exception, or the people who watch MMA just had very disturbing childhoods). And I’m willing to bet no one in Atlanta plays street hockey. In four years of living in Seattle, I’ve seen street hockey exactly once, and the kids were on skateboards! Some other kids nearby commented: “filthy!” And those second kids were right – that did look awesome and took a lot of skill. Still, the normal street hockey thing doesn’t happen. And I’m guessing in Atlanta it’s the same. And, being an expansion team that wasn’t popular or even decent, there weren’t exactly glory days of watching the Thrashers that people could reminisce about. Maybe there were some people left over who watched the Atlanta Flames as kids, but, evidently, not enough. And so, Atlanta is not a hockey town. And now it doesn’t have a hockey team.

The move, while bad for Atlanta hockey, is probably good for pro hockey in general. Perhaps it can signal the end of Gary Bettman’s disastrous southern strategy. I mean, let’s be fair, there was a chance the southern strategy would work. My pet theory is that like the southern strategy of the GOP, that of the NHL was predicated on racism. With football, basketball and baseball increasingly dominated by minorities, hockey had a chance to capture that “want to watch something at least slightly interesting and yet have white men dominate it” demographic (C-SPAN just wasn’t cutting it on the first point, I guess). And why wouldn’t southerners watch hockey – hell, they watch NASCAR, and everyone should agree that even watching the Atlanta Thrashers is more exciting than that. It could have worked. But it didn’t work. And the reason that it didn’t work is simple. When there are no fans, their amount doesn’t increase quickly: being a fan on your own is just not that much fun. Now, the NHL is moving out of Atlanta. Perhaps it is the end of the southern strategy – after all, the GOP largely abandoned theirs when they realized it wasn’t working (and/or was a moral travesty). Surely, expecting GOP levels of intelligence from Gary Bettman is at least a viable hope – this is the party of Michele Bachmann and Rick “santorum” Santorum after all. And yet, everything is being done to stop the Coyotes from leaving Phoenix. I don’t know.

The second Atlanta event is less global, perhaps, but no less momentous: Atlanta was the scene for me watching game 6 and 7*, and it illustrates what it means for a sport to have fans. Game 6 I watched in a bar alone (well, with my friend A., but he only joined me because I complained that I’d feel stupid sitting in a bar drinking alone. Joke’s on A., though, that’s something I do regularly! Also, A. kept asking things like “what’s a powerplay” and complaining he couldn’t see the puck, so I don’t know if you can really count him as watching). By game 7, due to a conference that involved many people from MIT, a bunch of Bostonites arrived at my hotel. The lobby area couches were turned into an amphitheater arrangement, and when I left in disgust and went up to my room on the 16th floor, I was still able to hear the cheer for the game ending. Orders of magnitude away from Vancouver after game 5, but still something. If I were a Boston fan, it’d be awesome. That’s the difference hockey fans make. It’s a positive feedback loop.

*An unrelated note on watching hockey in the U.S.: Mike Milbury** is an analyst on NBC, as well. The fact that the U.S. has 9% unemployment means that there are on the scale of 20 million people who are out of a job, and yet Mike Milbury has two. I would venture to guess that of those 20 million, roughly 20 million would make for a better TV hockey analyst than Mike Milbury. The fact that the U.S. has 9% unemployment and Mike Milbury has two jobs talking about hockey is basically an ironclad argument against any sort of justice existing within the free market.

**Please don’t anybody say “at least he had the good sense to trade Roberto Luongo”. Now is not the time.

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2 Responses to Hockey Night in Atlanta

  1. Zuuko says:

    Mike Milbury had been growing on me the last year. I thought he did a good job at times. He certainly had a viewpoint. But his attacks on the Sedins were completely unfair. Screw him.

  2. zolltan says:

    Hmm, I didn’t listen to any commentary at all during the finals, so my opinion is prolly out of date. It was also stated without thinking about the alternatives. When you consider that the alternatives are PJ Stock or those blatherers on Satellite Hotstove, maybe Milbury isn’t the worst that could happen. But the standard is just ridiculously low. I was trying to think of at least a decent hockey pundit, and honestly the least bad one I can come up with is Kypreos. It’s really a shame that when hockey is fodder for both hilarious (downgoesbrown) and insightful (theory of ice) blogging, hockey punditry is such a mire.

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