Having just returned to the frozen north, I feel compelled to share some personal observations and feelings about a very interesting but underappreciated aspect of your city.
You have a helluva hockey team in the making right now. And there are plenty of good seats available — almost embarrassingly so.
A few years ago, we told our friends in Washington to snap up season tickets for the Capitals, because Elvis was in the building but the general public didn’t know it yet. Those who invested in season tickets can drive their holiday shopping sprees now by, ahem, reselling those ducats to those driving the now overwhelming demand to “Rock the Red,” as they so often scream at Verizon Center in downtown D.C.
Well, there is no Ovechkin, but there is a Kreskin in your midst. Coach Craig Ramsay is that bald guy who calmly stands behind the home team’s bench in Atlanta. We know him in Boston as the guy who was on a supposed “checking line” for the Buffalo Sabres back in the day. Ramsay scored 20 or more goals for eight straight seasons before finally being acknowledged as the best “defensive” forward in hockey with the Selke Award in 1985.
As an assistant coach, he turned Dan Boyle from a guy who was minus-15 in 2002 (write back and we’ll bring you up to speed on plus-minus and stuff like that) to a career-best plus-23 for Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup champions. He took a fellow named Dennis Wideman, who was known for his ability to keep both teams in the game, and taught him how to be worth $4 million per season (and to be the principal in the Nathan Horton trade). Now — after a couple of brief they-didn’t-give-him-enough-time shots at being a head coach in Buffalo and Philadelphia — he has been given the reins to guide the sled of the hockey team in your fair city. He isn’t loud or outspoken, but given the bald pate and wise look, maybe you could start calling him “The Wizard” or something. Maybe that would get people to notice.
Now, I understand that football is rather important in Atlanta. The Falcons have the entire region fixated, and we in New England couldn’t be happier for Matt Ryan after watching him blossom at Boston College. I know that UGA, Georgia Tech and nearby Auburn are obsessions with many. That’s terrific. But if you ever tire of a game that stops every four seconds, a game in which the ball is in play for about 17 minutes over the course of three and a half hours, and want a little bit more action in a game that takes place more than once a week, you ought to try to catch one of these hockey games.
A waitress at a Peachtree Street restaurant said to me on Saturday night, “Hockey? We’ve got … the Thrashers, right?”
Verrrry good! The Thrashers. State bird, you know? Sort of fits in nicely with that Falcons/Hawks ornithological nickname trend? They’ve been around for 10 seasons now, so you can’t really even call them an “expansion team” anymore — after all, the New York “Amazin'” Mets won the World Series in their eighth season (I think they beat the Braves in the NLCS — sorry).
Well, you may not know much about the Thrashers because local media editors tend to bury the news about the team. But I think even they have to notice now. The Thrashers have beaten four pretty decent and reputable hockey clubs of late — the division-leading Washington Caps (with Elvis Ovechkin), the division-leading Detroit Red Wings, the division-leading Montreal Canadiens, and the we-thought-they-were-pretty-good Boston Bruins — by a collective score of 17-2.
They skate like crazy, they play as a unit and they have this guy named Dustin Byfuglien (not “Bigh-FOOG-lee-in” but rather “BUFF-lin”) who has a lot of the stuff that makes sports X factors interesting: He’s big, fast, creative, eager to please and he already has won a Stanley Cup (that’s like the Lombardi Trophy of hockey) with the Chicago Blackhawks. He just about tore down the house against the Bruins on Sunday with a goal and two assists in the first 15 minutes, adding an assist later to become just the second defenseman in the NHL this season to post a four-point game.
The reason I write this is that it’s really fun to go to hockey games. You get to see the world’s greatest athletes (puh-leeze don’t start arguing until you have tried to go skating) occasionally losing their tempers and punching the tar out of one another. Hey, you guys even have a kid named Evander Kane (a tribute to Atlanta’s own Holyfield), who has a wicked good right.
You should go see this team and yell your heads off. The Thrashers are good, they’re entertaining, and they’re cheap. Sonofagun, they would be drawing deafening capacity crowds in places like Quebec City or Winnipeg, where they are starved to get an NHL team again after the big Sun Belt experiment.
They are worthy of your praise. Now go and buy those $21 seats they’re advertising … and if you feel like a bold speculator, buy some season-ticket strips. Because you have something really good in front of you, and 12,000 a night just ain’t a major league performance out of you folks. As a lifelong hockey fan, I welcome you into the tent.
We’ll be back between Christmas and New Year’s. All your Thrashers want for the holiday is a big, huge Atlanta-style traffic jam going to Philips Arena.