Archive for the Category ◊ Southern hockey ◊

25 May 2011 If I Felt Less, I Could Say More

Ilya Kovalchuk

Thumbs WAY down for the Atlanta Spirit Group. We deserved better.

If you have been following the saga of my Atlanta Thrashers, you know all of the arguments being made for — and against — relocation of the franchise to Winnipeg. Though I have so much in my heart for the Thrashers, I have found myself unable to post about it here. Maybe I am still in denial.

Nevertheless, I have answered the call to action from Thrashers fans far more organized than me. I’ve written letters, I’ve debated with Winnipeg fans, supported the tailgate/rally, contacted my ticket rep., badgered members of the media, begged, pleaded, taken the insults being thrown at my city and the fans of this team, even cried a little bit in private. Not that it matters. It seems the Thrashers’ ownership group has been hell bent on moving this team all along, having worked a backroom deal months ago. I can honestly say I did what (little) I could.

I’ve asked some of the great people I’ve met through social media to forward me some of the letters they sent to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (and others). I received quite a few. I will post them here as a small sampling of the sentiments of Thrashers fans everywhere. These people say what I cannot. My heart is too full, too broken. Here’s our first installment of “Letters to Gary…”

Mr Bettman,

Please don’t allow the Atlanta Spirit to relocate my Thrashers this soon after beginning their search for a buyer. I am aware they have been wanting to sell my team for the entire time they’ve owned them, but did not have clear title to do so until December 2010. Given the unknown duration of litigation, I’m sure you can imagine why no outside buyers would have seriously considered the purchase from the Atlanta Spirit until after their lawsuit was settled.

Five months is not enough time for due diligence. Five months is not enough time to determine relocation is the only answer left. Five months is not enough time for Atlanta Spirit and the NHL to determine that there are/aren’t local buyers interested in the purchase, and it’s not enough time for local buyers to complete their due diligence required to determine whether or not the purchase of the Thrashers is a real prospect they want to pursue.

Given the NHL by-laws regarding relocation requests (have to be entered by Jan. 1st) there is not reason to rush this sale. If it turns out on December 31st that a relocation deal is the only deal on the table, then I completely understand the need to enter the request to the NHL to move my team. I implore you to allow more time for this process to take place.

Best regards,

M.W.

* I have replaced names with initials.
** These letters appear as they were sent to me. No editing has been done.

Thrashers Fans: Have a Letter to Share?

We would love to have any letters you wrote to Gary Bettman, team representatives, NHL brass, city council members — anyone you might have been appealing to. Please send copies of your letters to kaatiya [at] hockeygoddesses.com . Thanks!

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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30 Nov 2010 Now is the Time Thrashers — Bring it!

Dustin Byfuglien

Dustin Byfuglien is a huge part of the Thrashers' success so far.

Having spent the last three days at Steamboat, skiing in pristine powder it’s safe to say I am experiencing a Rocky Mountain High. Looking at the Thrashers’ recent record — five straight wins — makes this heady feeling even stronger.

I’m hanging around a few extra days to see the team in action at the Pepsi Center in Denver where they’ll be taking on Goddess Sasha’s Avs. Historically the Thrashers have faltered upon reaching five wins, which (naturally) leads me to fear I’ll be watching them hit yet another roadblock. But you know, this isn’t the Thrashers team of old. Far from it!

What the team lacks in big names (no Hossa, Kovalchuk, Savard, Heatley, et. al.), they make up for in workers. Not worker bees in the drone, going-through-the-motions sense, but guys who come to win every night. That’s a serious change from previous years in which the entire team seemed to ebb and flow with a Kovalchuk streak or skid; or Kari Lehtonen’s groin. It was almost as if they were waiting for permission or for the time to be right to step up. Or that the league had counted them out so often they started to believe they were, and could be, nothing more than a mediocre team. But that was yesterday. Perhaps it’s just the right combination of youth and experienced leadership. Whatever it is, the team is just looking great.

Now is the time for the Thrashers to go over the top, to break through the five-game stumbling block, blaze past their six-game win-streak record and keep on going! Let’s go Thrashers! And when the team returns home, fans, let’s get our buns in the stands and support this team. They deserve it.

Photo: Dustin Byfuglien from Getty Images.

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02 Jul 2010 How Do You Solve a Problem Like Modano?

Mike Modano

The former face of the Dallas Stars Mike Modano.

Mike Modano had a storybook ending to last season (the Dallas Stars failing to make the playoffs notwithstanding). His final home game saw him get an assist, a goal and the game-winning shootout goal. His last game took place in Minnesota, where his career began. The crowd cheered his shifts (after years of booing), the Stars won, and after the game he came out in an old Minnesota North Stars jersey, once again receiving thunderous applause.

The Stars produced video tributes. People flew from all over North America to be a part of Mike’s final games. Hockey pundits lavished praise upon the career of America’s greatest scorer. The problem is, Mike Modano wasn’t and isn’t ready to retire.

Now, what does an organization do when they are ready to turn a corner, but the face of their franchise isn’t? According to GM Joe Nieuwendyk, you don’t even offer the player a contract.

Legions of Dallas Stars and Mike Modano fans have taken to the talk radio airwaves and the Internet to voice their displeasure about the organization’s decision. You see, in the South, we’ve been brought up with better manners than that. Up North, you can get away with letting a Saku Koivu (or any other player that has spent his entire career with one team) go. But with Modano … this one is going to hurt.

Mike Modano

Mike Modano's good looks, easy charm and incredible play helped sell hockey in Texas.

When Mike and the former North Stars came to Dallas, Modano was the one the organization used to sell tickets. His was the face on the billboards. Pretty enough for the big-haired Texas woman to pay attention to, and talented enough to keep even the most diehard Cowboys fan watching in amazement as he weaved his way around defenders with his hair and jersey flapping in his wake.

As for me, I had hoped Mike would retire. Not because he doesn’t still have more hockey in him, but because I felt, in some ways, the Stars needed to move on, both on and off the ice. I’m also someone who hates seeing an athlete’s skill diminish as he struggles to keep up with the game he has played all of his life.

Sadly, few remember how feared Chris Chelios was. New York Rangers fans watched Mark Messier become a shadow of the player he had been. Even beloved Vancouverite Trevor Linden was a healthy scratch many times during his final season.

Mike Modano is my favorite player. He took that position the very first time I saw him skate. (Sorry Neal Broten!) I’ve watched him his entire career, even when he didn’t have his familiar No. 9 on the back of his sweater. As he and I take on different roles for the first time in more than 20 years, I hope he goes somewhere that will make him happy once again. You could see his frustration last season at how he was being utilized; and when Mike isn’t happy, he doesn’t play as well.

So, Mike, as you embark on this new chapter in your career, I wish you nothing but clean, fast ice … and may your jersey forever flap behind you!

(But please … land out East!)

Photos: Mike Modano from mikemodano.com.

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18 Jun 2010 Thrashers for Sale, Hawks Too? Back Up the Moving Van

Ondrej Pavelec

Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec's mask pays tribute to the city's famous Fox Theater.

Not so fast, you! Glory be, ya’ll as (some) Southerners might say. (Probably not, but in the popular imagination, that’s what we would say.)

Is this a time of trepidation for Atlanta Thrashers fans? Should we be afraid (once more) that the Thrashers will be moving? Is the report out of New York correct? Are the Thrashers (and Hawks!) for sale again? It’s been rumored for some time that one or both franchises (and beautiful Philips Arena) could be on sale. Now, cue Jim Balsillie: Back up the moving van, The Thrashers are for sale! Let the rumors fly! But before you go crazy, do read the Atlanta ownership group’s statement:

As has been shared publicly for more than a year, we are interested in finding minority investors and have engaged a firm to assist us in that effort. We have no plans to move either team, and remain committed to the Hawks, the Thrashers, Philips Arena and the city of Atlanta.

Now that we’ve done due diligence, let’s assume the team is for sale, there are several reasons it would be difficult, though not impossible, to extract the Thrashers from Atlanta, the most important one being the naming rights agreement with Philips. It requires both an NHL and NBA franchise playing in the building. As with any contract, there are likely some ways out, but those ways would be quite expensive.

There are lucrative sponsorships to be considered, as well as long-term leases on luxury boxes that were signed with assumption that both hockey and basketball would be played in Philips Arena.

Atlanta IS a Hockey City

There are numerous reasons that Gary Bettman is right in his desire and commitment to make hockey work in “non-traditional” markets. Atlanta, contrary to what many believe, is a fantastic hockey city. It’s a city with a metro area of close to 5.5 million. It’s a city with deep pockets and a great, great many of those, ya know, hockey-loving Northerners who have relocated down South. It’s got a lot of Southern hockey-loving people too — don’t let the popular image of what Atlanta is (and isn’t) fool you. The problem has been lackadaisical ownership, the NHL lockout (which came at a horrible time for burgeoning franchises), and unfortunately, the economic downturn, which hit some cities worse than others.

Wall of jerseys at Philips Arena

Philips Arena's wall of NHL jerseys.

When the Thrashers ice a quality, winning team, fans come. That’s been shown in the past. You are lying to yourself if you think Atlanta is the only place where fans don’t show up to see losing teams. Remember the Pittsburgh Penguins a few years ago? Were they selling tickets like Sno-Cones on a summer day? No. Remember the Chicago Blackhawks? I sure do. The AHL Chicago Wolves iced better teams and had more buzz in the city until the philosophy changed with the younger Wirtz taking over in Chi-town. But I remember many games at the United Center that were empty, empty, empty! (My sister was in Chicago for many years and for many years we attended games with extremely sparse attendance.)

I know Canadians like to dream of plucking one of the Southern franchises (said with disdain) from its home and moving it back up North where hockey really lives. Winnipeg is a popular choice and rallying point for these Canadians. But, can that city — or many of the others (some in the U.S. as well) whose names pop up (ahem, Kansas City, Hamilton, Ontario, Kitchener/Waterloo, Milwaukee, etc.) — sustain a team? Does it have 13 Fortune 500 companies headquartered there (as Atlanta does)? Does it have the all-important ability to sustain corporate sponsorship? Does it have a state-of-the-art arena with all the bells and whistles that people demand today — particularly those corporate sponsors? Does it have a huge potential market? The potential to bring NEW fans to the NHL’s table? Yes, we know our friendly neighbors to the North have the fans, but that’s only one piece to the extremely complex puzzle that is professional sports today. To put it another way, why would you court the lady you already have?

Philips Arena

With even a little bit of on-ice success, Atlantans have proven they will support the Thrashers.

It’s marketing. Marketing, that, (for all his flaws) NHL Commish Gary Bettman understands. If you already love any product, you are not the target of that company’s ads and marketing. The goal is NEW fans. Canadian hockey fans are a given. If you love Coca-Cola, you aren’t necessarily the target audience of Coke’s ads and marketing. The goal is new drinkers of that product. That’s why Bettman is gung-ho about non-traditional markets, he’s courting new fans. Where Bettman is failing is in ensuring the right ownership in these markets. With the right ownership, marketing and success on the ice, hockey can not only survive, but thrive in these markets.

So bring on new ownership. Ownership that cares about cultivating this growing fanbase and nurturing lost relationships with fans. The Atlanta franchise can be turned around. What was Yoda’s most important lesson to Luke Skywalker? Patience.

It won’t happen overnight.

Photos: Ondrej Pavelec and Philips Arena by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2007-2010. All Rights Reserved.

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21 Apr 2010 RIP Dynamo Moscow

The names of team's legends hang in the rafters at Dynamo's arena in Moscow .

I know nothing is certain in life.  The same is true of pro sports.  I learned this early when my hometown NFL team — the one I grew up loving and cheering for and singing along to the cheesy “Luv Ya Blue!” song and dressing like a Derrick Doll for Halloween (don’t ask!) moved to Nashville, Tennessee.  (RIP Houston Oilers.)

I know Hartford Whalers’ fans felt the same way. The Montreal Expos’ fans.  Los Angeles Rams’ fans. Even fans of teams that haven’t even moved yet, but are in jeopardy probably feel this sadness and trepidation. I won’t even mention the Winnipeg Jets fans, who seem to think they are entitled to have the Thrashers or the Coyotes because they allegedly have better fans — that’s an argument for another day. (But suffice it to say, it takes more than a few years to grow a fan base. And these locales have the corporate support that other cities probably don’t and won’t. I know, I know, bring on the hate.)

Maxim Afinogenov in Dynamo colors.

Maxim Afinogenov in Dynamo colors.

But I must say it is with some shock and surprise to hear HC Moscow Dynamo, former team of such stars as Alex Ovechkin, Maxim Afinogenov, Alexei Yashin, and Alexei Kovalev, is ceasing to exist. Reports indicate the venerable Russian team, founded in 1946, will be merging with another in the Kontinental Hockey League — HC MVD.

The embattled Jiri Hudler (still property of the Detroit Red Wings) has apparently already been released from the second year of his contract and could return to the National Hockey League next year.

When we were in Moscow in January, Goddess Sasha and I took in a meeting of Dynamo Moscow and Atlant Moscow Oblast (itself a remade team from the remnants of Khimik Voskresensk — the former club of my favorite player, Slava Kozlov). Looking back now, we were lucky to see the game at Dynamo’s home area — an old, somewhat decrepit looking building with lots of charm.  I can still hear the “DYNAMO!  DYNAMO!” chants in my head.  The crowds and arenas, compared with most NHL teams are small, but boy are they loud.  They put NHL fans to shame.  Such passion.  NHL cheers may as well be golf claps by comparison.

Russian fans cheer: “Dynamo! Dynamo!”

Dynamo’s implosion (or going away — whatever you chose), hits me where it hurts.  Being a fan of a team on the brink, so to speak, it frightens me.  If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone. Particularly a team like the Atlanta Thrashers whose fanbase has been alienated and led on for years now.  Atlanta could be — nay, should be — a fantastic hockey city.  The people are there, the owners are out to lunch or just don’t give a damn. Oh! That’s right they have spent years in litigation fighting over a team they seem to care nothing about, just having pissing contests while they piss the team away.

Two of the many they let get away.

Heatley had to leave.  I understand he had to run away (no judgement meant or implied, though he’s still running).  But squandering years of Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Marc Savard, Kozlov (obviously!), even a brief twirl with the great Peter Bondra.  It makes me sick the talent that has slipped through our (yes our) fingers.

I don’t want the Thrashers to be the next Dynamo.  Or Montreal Expos. Los Angeles Rams.  Or Houston Oilers.  Or even the Minnesota North Stars.   I’m just not sure what we, the little guys — particularly the die-hard fans — can do to stop it.

Photos/video: Moscow Dynamo stadium and Ilya Kovalchuk/Marian Hossa photo, and Dynamo stadium video: Copyright 2006-2010. Goddess Kaat. Maxim Afinogenov photo: Wikipedia commons, 2009.

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27 Feb 2010 Bad Time to Be a Thrasher Fan

… A headline which begs the question: Was there ever a good time?

Vyacheslav Kozlov

Vyacheslav Kozlov

In light of the news that my (unabashedly) favorite Thrasher (and hockey player in general) wants out of Atlanta has me on the brink of begging to be run over by a Zamboni. Slava Kozlov has been a cornerstone of the franchise. Not in the way that Ilya was. Or Hossa was. Or Heater was. He’s just been a quiet force. A rock-solid, good leader. He’s been in a bit of a funk lately, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how he is benched in favor of some other guys who have been just as dismal and bring less to the table. Now, word is, he wants to leave Atlanta too. Aside from the personal heartbreak this brings, I think it speaks volumes about what is going on in Atlanta — none of it good. I am, frankly, rather terrified at the downward spiral the team seems to be in.

For those who don’t know, there are tons of hockey fans in Atlanta. Tons. There is also a great deal of corporate sponsorship, which other cities simply can’t offer. It’s important to have a team here, but the ownership and leadership is driving the franchise into the ground. Hockey fans in Atlanta deserve better than this.

I really feel Kozlov deserves better than this. I’d always hoped he’d retire a Thrasher and that his number would be the first retired at Philips. That he’d stay in the organization and make it better. Now he, too, wants to flee the scene.

It worries me.

Photo: Vyacheslav Kozlov by Goddess Kaat. Copyright 2009-2010. All Rights Reserved.

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