For the last month, Washington Capitals fans, along with local and national beat writers and bloggers, have chastised the team for yet another poor postseason performance. The initial pain is palpable and is the cause of much heartbreak, but once we calm down and rationalize everything that has transpired, we can easily say, “There’s always next year.” Yet, the same cannot be said about the Atlanta Thrashers.
Tuesday, Atlanta Spirit, the ownership group in charge of the Thrashers organization, finalized the sale of the team to True North, who plans to bring the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where hockey fans have suffered without a NHL franchise since the Jets left to become the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. Thrashers fans, long-suffering as is, will now continue to do so.
Everett Duke is a graduate student at Auburn University and is as fervent and supportive of the Thrashers as any fan is about the Caps. In a way that all hockey fans can relate to, the Thrashers were not just part of Duke’s life; they were his life. And now as Caps fans hang their jerseys in their closet until October when they once again return to Verizon Center, Duke will never get another chance to show his true colors at Philips Arena again. Duke has taken the time to share his story and give us a proper perspective. We may all complain about the Caps’ pratfalls, but at least they have a chance to change their future.
My name is Everett and I have a problem. My problem isn’t an early playoff exit or an underperforming superstar. My problem is that my team is completely gone. When October comes and you all put on your jerseys and return to the arena, I won’t be able to do that.
I’ve been attending Thrashers games since their first preseason game in September 1999. They played that game about 10 minutes from my home; their regular season home was two hours away. That first season, my mom let me skip school and took me to see the team practice. Dean Sylvester, my favorite player, gave me his stick. That team captured my heart and poor ownership has broken it. The Thrashers became one of the most important things in my life and now they are gone.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was jealous of what Washington has. Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Spirit were supposed to be my own personal Alex Ovechkin and Ted Leonsis. I read Leonsis’ blog and it makes me sick to see an owner as passionate about his team as its fans are. The Thrashers could never give me a lot, but they at least gave me NHL hockey. I know cutting budgets is popular in D.C., but I don’t think you will ever see your team cut thanks to people like Leonsis.
I chose a college that would make going to games possible. I worked hard enough to earn scholarships and I took student loans to pay for my season tickets. Where most students dread morning classes, I took them exclusively to allow me time to drive to Atlanta for games. In the fall, I’m starting a grauate school program in sports management. My dream was to work for the Thrashers in Atlanta – to make hockey what it deserved to be in Atlanta. When this team moves to Winnipeg, I lose a team and a dream.
The Thrashers became special to not only me, but to my family. Every game was a road game for my mom and I and I’m pretty sure that travel time is some of the best time we have ever spent together. The four hours of driving on game days is gone. Whereas most people begin to lose touch with their family during their college years, my family grew closer than ever because of the Thrashers. Some of my favorite memories with my sister are of her taking me to games when Mom wouldn’t – like when Kovalchuk returned from holding out and Dany Heatley returned from his injury. The last conversation I ever had with my grandmother was on the way home from a game. She never got to go to a game, but she watched them all because of me. I remember her telling me, “They lost. They do that a lot, but at least that Kovalchuk guy you like scored.”
Last year I went to the Olympics in Vancouver and had the privilege to blog about them on the Thrashers site. Would I have ever experienced the Olympics if it weren’t for the Thrashers? I couldn’t stand the thought of a two-week break without hockey, so of course I traveled to see them. It was the greatest trip of my life – but it is also now tarnished thanks to the selfishness of the Atlanta Spirit.
Stick by your team, win or lose. The pain of a playoff loss is nothing like the pain I have now. I’ll never get to complain about NHL hockey in Atlanta again. I’ve been so upset that I’ve crying and vomiting, which is what I expected to do if the Thrashers ever won the Stanley Cup. I’ll never get to see that now, let alone another game in Blueland. I’m sure Caps fans are hurting now, but Thrashers fans are hurting, too. But for us, we don’t have next year.