A shot from the stands of a Gwinnett Gladiators vs. Pensacola Ice Pilots game in 2007 by Wikipedia user Alexd. Used under Creative Commons license.
Sadly, the Thrashers' time in Atlanta might be over. That's no reason to waste the Southeastern hockey renaissance that they helped spearhead. Below, some suggestions for the wayward Peach State hockey fan should the worst happen.
Thrashers fans are, by all accounts, bracing themselves for the inevitable pain of losing another Atlanta hockey franchise. Is it inevitable? No, of course not. Only death and taxes are unavoidable, and if you have a good attorney (NOT one that has represented the Atlanta Spirit Group, by all accounts) you can get out of the latter.
From what I've heard, even if you have a bad attorney you can get out of bad business deals with partners you dislike, so there you go.
Anywho, there are fans crying that they'll never be interested in watching hockey again because they'll be hurt so much over this situation. That's understandable. I'll be crushed if the Thrashers leave, and I'm sure most of you will too. But to never watch hockey again? Inconceivable! It might be different for me, coming as I do from a traditional hockey market (St. Louis). When I moved to Atlanta, it was a wasteland save for the Knights and maybe some rec teams. All I had was a copy of NHL 94, some hockey cards, and newspapers that my family'd mail me when something went on with the Blues. It was awful.
The arrival of the Thrashers made hockey more accessible for me, and it was fantastic. It made the sport accessible for the first time to scores of people who had never experienced the sport, and over time it grew. It went from where you couldn't find a rink to where you couldn't find rink time; from where you couldn't get people on your beer league team to where you had to turn people down for it. There's no need to give up on the greatest sport in the world just because an ownership group ruined NHL hockey for all of us. There's plenty to do.
Go To A Gwinnett Gladiators Game
As many know, there's an ECHL team around the corner with a relatively huge, rabid fanbase. The Gladiators are just down I-85 off of Satellite Industrial Boulevard at the Gwinnett Center, and it's worth the drive. They have an extremely loyal following, free parking (!) great ticket deals (the most expensive, on the glass seat will run you between $17 and $22), and there's a vibe of an actual hockey culture. Granted, the past few seasons they've struggled more than a little bit on the ice, but the team - unlike the Thrashers - has a history of winning. They've made the playoffs six out of their eight seasons in existence, and made to the Kelly Cup Finals once. Sure, for those of us on the north side of town, it's tough to get out there on a weeknight with traffic, but for those of you who live out that way, season tickets'd be a very worthy investment.
Forget College Football; Go See Some College Hockey
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech: fun game, right? Well, imagine that on ice with guys slamming into each other at 20-plus miles per hour on skates. Imagine actual sport-condoned and appropriate fights between the schools. Imagine tailgating before a hockey game in the wintertime. Nothing goes with beer better than hockey (I believe hockey fans drink more per capita than fans of any other sport), and nothing goes better with college sports than tailgating. Coincidence? I think not! There are more than enough college teams around here. The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Emory, Southern Polytechnic, and your national champion Kennesaw State University Ice Owls. HOOTIE HOO. Tickets are usually either free with a student ID, or really cheap for everyone else. And the KSU fans bang on an oil drum. Why not?
High School Hockey, Any One?
High school football is a strange, morbid obsession in the South. High school hockey's its worthy competition. The Georgia Student Hockey League is a branch of US Hockey, and has a local state champion in the form of the Walton Raiders.
Get Your Kids Involved In A Local Team
Don't have high schoolers? Don't live close to a high school with a hockey team? No problem. It goes beyond the Junior Knights and Junior Thrashers, with multiple teams in every county and every side of the city, both in and out of the perimeter.
Get NHL Center Ice/GameCenter Live
Ok, it can be a bit expensive if you get it through your cable provider (three or four payments of $79.99 each, I believe), but getting GCL on-line is $20 a month. With a quick enough internet connection, the games are broadcast in HD. I realize that it's hard to watch teams other than the Thrashers, but you can catch some other squads that have a lot to like about them. If you haven't watched a Blues/Blackhawks game, you haven't lived.*
Road Trip To A Local AHL/NHL Team
There're the Checkers, the Stingrays, the Florida Everblades (wee), the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Carolina Hurricanes (who tailgate the hell out of a hockey game), and the Florida Panthers. Sure, the road trips are long, and you can't do them in five-game homestand blocks, but it's still fun to hop in a car and go to Miami. Even for hockey. Think about it - hockey and mojitos. What in the world is the problem with this?
Weekend Plans For The Nashville Predators
I know a few people who happen to list the Predators as their Western Conference squad. They're just a four hour drive away. While that might be prohibitive for a season ticket plan, they do offer weekend half season plans that are perfect for day trips to the Music City. There're tons of bars around Bridgestone Arena, and their fans are some of the nicest in the game. Also, they're a Southern team that's been run correctly and have experienced massive success, thereby leading to them having a large and loyal fanbase. Oh, if only that could've happened here.
Wait - it could have if the team actually had owners who cared and could properly run a sports franchise.
This isn't an option for everyone, but if you moved down here from a Northern city with a hockey franchise, and you really, REALLY want to see regular NHL games, you could always go back from whence you came. I'm seriously considering moving back to St. Louis and purchasing Blues season tickets. Sure, they might not be as well-priced as the Thrashers (unless the Blues fail to make the playoffs, then they're half off), but the owners - whoever those might be - do tend to lavish some sort of perks and giveaways on the fans to make them feel valued (weird) and they also have seats that include all you can drink beer.
Hockey fans, regardless of what team they cheer for, can all agree that's the greatest perk of all.
*I'm biased, but there usually are a lot of fights and blood and someone always gets hauled off the ice on a stretcher.