Running around to Give you the Reacharound


Puck Off

The best athlete in Atlanta is a hockey player. Hm.

Last night, I attended my first hockey game since the 2000-2001 season. I won't even pretend to know what I'm talking about in regard to the actual Xs and Os of hockey, but the Thrashers blew a 4-2 3rd period lead and lost 6-4 to the Nashville, a franchise that entered the NHL a year before the Thrashers and yet has seen substantially more success. So please, consider this list of 10 observations from last night's Thrashers-Predators preseaon game to be likely the first, last and only hockey post of this here blauwg.

1. Most importantly, it appears that beer prices in Philips Arena are staying at the low, low price of $6.75 for a 20oz beer. That remains the local golden standard of sports-venue alcohol purchasing, narrowly edging out the Turner Field's $6.75/16oz beers and soundly defeating Sanford Stadium's N/A.
They just go well together.

2. I had never been to an exhibition game of any sort before this one (not even a G-Day game). There's something really weird about watching a game that means nothing at all whatsoever, and watching diehard fans from both teams (quite a bit of Pred fans in the group of, oh, 800 or so total attendees) still overly cheering on the players, screaming at the refs and just getting really excited or dejected at every turn. I couldn't figure out whether or not to pity or envy those guys.

3. "Hockey is the best sport to watch in person!" is a sentiment that seems to be shared by people who say things like "Sports Night really was a great TV show." Don't get me wrong. I used to love going to Atlanta Knights games in the 90s as well as Thrashers games when they came around. I was also a teenager. I enjoyed the hell out of going to Atlanta Fireants games as well, so let's just say it didn't take much to impress me at a sporting event. Regardless, last night confirmed that hockey/live sentiment again. I didn't really care who won the game. I didn't know the names of more than five players out there. We sat in the nosebleeds (for the first period at least, before moving down to first row rinkside seats against the glass....I'm telling you...800 might be an overestimate). And yet, the game went by fast as hell and I was glued to the action the entire time. I don't know if its the ice, the skating, the flow of the game or what, but watching a hockey game in person is absolutely mesmerizing. Plus I was high, so that might have helped.

Yeah, I was cool when you're 12 years old.

4. Don Waddell is one lucky, lucky man. He has been the Thrashers GM since Day 1, and is the beginning of his 9th season. They have won zero playoff games while the Predators and Minnesota Wild, both of whom came into the league around the same time as the Thrashers, have multiple appearances. Luckily he works for an inept ownership group that doesn't fire anyone unless public pressure gets to be too much. However, he is GM of a hockey team in Atlanta, so there is no public pressure for him to do, well, anything. If this was Toronto or Denver or Detroit, he would have been long gone. Still though, I'm surprised he's still around. Coaches and GM's in the NHL have VanGorder-esque shelf lives.

5. Again, I am by no means a hockey expert, but is it just me or does the Thrasher's roster look painstakingly thin? These guys pick in the Top 10 every year?!?! I counted five first round picks on their roster. NBA teams have more first rounders on their roster than that! When you're hitting at or below the Mendoza line on Top 10 draft picks, it might be time to find another career. Ask Matt Millen.

Office is upstairs, yo.

6. Just one more note on Waddell...did you know he was the GM of the US Olympic Team in 2006? What the hell? That was the best the US can do? "Hey here's a guy that built an expansion team from scratch into a marginally talented team that keeps missing the playoffs....sign him up!"

7. Let's say you were the CEO of a successful business that catered to a unique clientele. Let's say you wanted to expand your business to a new region that was rapidly growing. Would you just throw your product out there and hope that it catches on among the locals or would you do some marketing and find a way to help your product succeed. Obviously the latter.

So I don't understand why the NHL decided to just set up shop along the Sun Belt in hopes that everyone who lives in a region where the temperature is consistently above 70 degrees would just fall in love with this niche sport. Sure you have the northern transplants, some of whom are diehard hockey fans, and that's nice...but it's not enough to sustain the growth of the league over a long period of time. The same people that are going to Thrashers games now were going to games back in 2002. And I'm sure it's a similar situation in Nashville, Raleigh, Tampa, Miami, Dallas and Phoenix....I mean, you're talking about almost 1/4 of the league now.

So what could the NHL do? Front the package, as some might say. Go into these southern cities and build recreational hockey rinks in the suburbs of those cities (and in reality, those cities, like Atlanta, are essentially just a collection of suburbs). Let kids play for cheap. Sponsor youth hockey camps out the ass so that the kids have things to do year-round. Is it expensive? Yeah. Will it be awhile before you see a return on your investment? Sure. But I'd bet that those kids might show some more interest in going to a Thrashers game than a kid that has never put on a pair of skates before. In 20 years, you have a generation of fans that have an interest in hockey that wouldn't have if they never played or followed the sport. Maybe then you won't have a TV deal that Conference USA would laugh at. Seems like Marketing 101 to me, but what do I know?


Sidebar: This solution also works (more realistically and cost-effective too, might I add) with baseball and their never-ending quest to have more black baseball players. Build baseball fields in the inner-cities. Buy land. Throw down grass. Get community organizers and local Boys and Girls Clubs to run leagues. Provide the equipment and umpires, lights, etc. Let kids register for these leagues for cheap. Get young kids playing the game. They'll be more likely to try out for, play and succeed in that sport in high school and maybe beyond. Isn't that essentially what baseball has done in Latin America and the Pacific Rim? Why can't they just apply the same logic when it comes to blacks in America?


So that's it: Went to a Hockey game, had a great time, don't expect much from Thrashers this year, NHL needs to build it and they will come. That about sums up all my thoughts on hockey of the last 7 years.

No comments: