Ahh, Southern hockey. I’m quite the fan of this sport, and love the flair that Southern hockey fans have brought to it. (OK, not all of the flair, I pretty much hate the Ric Flair WOO’s at any rink…). Though some of the panic seems to have died down for the time being, there are countless reports that the Atlanta Thrashers are on their way to Winnipeg, beginning during the 2011-12 season. If this move was to happen, it would have repurcussions for Canes and Checkers fans alike, and for all fans of Southern hockey.
If the Thrashers move, it will be the second time the city of Atlanta has lost a franchise, previously losing the Atlanta Flames to Calgary. The Atlanta Flames were in Atlanta from 1972-1980, and were named after the city’s historic moment during the Civil War when the Union army burned down the city. (As an aside, how great would it be if the Atlanta Flames still existed, a team with naming history based in the Confederate army in the civil war, and they faced the Columbus Blue Jackets, named in honor of the Union army of the same war?) The Atlanta Flames had a really cool logo, and the team kept the name when it moved to Calgary. (I can’t find any reason Calgary would be known for Flames, or why they chose to keep the name, except it was more common to do that in those days of the NHL, than to change like we have in the past 20 years (Jets became Coyotes, Nordiques became Avalanche, Whalers became Hurricanes, etc.).
In 1999, Atlanta was given a second chance in the NHL when they were awarded an expansion team. They became the Thrashers (a scary looking bird of prey, which breathes fire at Phillips Arena when the team scores). They haven’t had great success over the years, making the playoffs only once in their 11 seasons. Atlanta is a tough market for hockey. They have three other major league sports, with the MLB Braves, NFL Falcons and NBA Hawks.
As an NHL fan, I’ve been to a number of games in Atlanta, including All-Star festivities a few years ago, and always had a blast. Tickets were readily available, inexpensive, and the fans were fun to be around. The crowds may have been small, but the people there were passionate and educated when it came to their team, something I admire in a fanbase. I read a piece about how Atlanta only has six sheets of ice, and for the hockey market to develop, it needs more than that…. I’m only aware of two sheets in Raleigh outside of the RBC Center, and Charlotte has three sheets… if you count the Xtreme Ice Center as having two. So I hope how much ice your city has isn’t a measurement of the strength of the market!
Needless to say, as a fan of teams in non traditional hockey markets, I want to see hockey succeed in Atlanta. I don’t want them to move to Winnipeg, with no say in the matter. While I think a city like Winnipeg deserves a team, and has a fanbase to support it, I don’t want to see it happen like this. I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating it would be from a fan’s perspective to see one’s team ripped from them and shipped not only across the country, but to a province that for those of us in the American South, is nearly as remote as places on other continents (unless of course you are Jacob Micflikier, who’s hometown is Winnipeg… otherwise, I’ve never met a person who has been to Winnipeg, or honestly even wants to visit there… no offense, of course, to those of you who call it home!) I know Winnipeg experienced this when they left the Jets to Phoenix, but that doesn’t make this potential move fair, either.
If one was to compare Winnipeg to Atlanta, you’d see some very drastic differences…
Winnipeg has a metro population of 753,600* whereas Atlanta’s is 5,268,860.
Winnipeg would be able to sell out every single game next season in their 15,015 MTS Centre arena (Where the Manitoba Moose of the AHL currently play.) The Thrashers, on the other hand, averaged only 13,469 fans in Phillips Arena this season, which has a hockey capacity of 18,545. According to ESPN, the Thrashers finished 28th in the league in attendance in 2010 with an average of 13,469 per game.
Average temperature in Winnipeg in winter is 3-20 degrees Celcius. Atlanta, by contrast, at it’s coldest in January, has an average winter temperature of 42 degrees (and as we all know, a 70 degree day in winter isn’t out of the question in the South!)
SO…. what does all of this mean to Charlotte? Well, a lot of things. Let’s finish my thoughts off based on the idea that the Thrashers do in fact get moved to Winnipeg (Though, I personally do NOT want to see this happen). My blogger-pall Jason has the best explanation of all of the AHL dominoes that will fall as a result of this (The Moose will move somewhere new, the Chicago Wolves will be without a parent franchise, etc.). More so than the Checkers, the Hurricane’s will be drastically affected by this move. By losing an NHL team in the Southeastern division, either a team like Columbus (I’m ALL FOR THIS!) or Nashville could move to the Southeast, or the decision could be delayed for a year, and Winnipeg’s team would play in the Southeast in 2011-12, forcing a TERRIBLE road schedule for themselves, and requiring Washington, Carolina and the two Florida teams to make three trips EACH to Winterpeg. (And I can assure you, for fans wanting to go on away-game trips, there are no even remotely direct flights from North Carolina to Winnepeg, and driving would take you 27 hours behind the wheel, in good weather (which they don’t have in winter!).
Selfishly, I’d be VERY worried about the Canes game in Charlotte in September, because their opposing team is to be Atlanta. I’m told the Canes would still have this game, but the opponent could change, and the whole rationale behind the game was to give fans in Raleigh a Bobcats game, and fans in Charlotte a Canes game.
This is going to be an exciting offseason… despite the fact I no longer have an AHL team to follow in the finals (my beloved Bulldogs lost to a REALLY BAD CALL with a minute or so to go), so I’m no longer personally invested in the Calder Cup Finals, I know I’ll have more than enough to write about. I already have some fun features planned, and more serious prospect previews in the coming weeks.
I’ll keep you all posted as I hear more about the Atlanta situation, and of course anything and everything that has to do with our Checkers!
*updated to reflect 50,000 previously unaccounted for Winnepeg residents.
Lets Go Checkers