By Michael Collins
I've spent the entire 2012 hockey season with my mouth basically shut. I wrote at the beginning of the season how I felt about the NHL, Gary Bettman, and the entire fiasco surrounding the former Atlanta Thrashers. And what did I get for my tongue-in-cheek column, and my silence following said article? A lot of kidney punches and eye gouges from the good folk in Winnipeg.
I seriously thought of changing my name to Larry, Moe or Curly for a while there.
But I bit my tongue. I wasn't going to let them bait me into a pointless argument. I have lived through all the incarnations of hockey that have ever been in Atlanta, and nobody from the great white north will make me ever believe that the problems are completely fan driven. It's just not so.
Even though they continued to hammer me, I resisted the urge to fire back. It was tough.
Some examples of the fiery script that I was sent from our kind neighbors to the north:
"CALGARY FLAMES WAS ALANTA FLAMES AND THEY COULD NOT HOLD THEM DOWN FOR LONG A TIME WHICH WAS BACK IN THE 80'S AND ALANTA TRASHERS THEY KNEW THEY HAD IT FOR THEM AND IT COULD NOT WORK THE DIRTY SOUTH THIS IS THE NEW ERA OF HOCKEY YOU WISH U CAN GET A NEW TEAM LOOK AT QUEBEC CITY THEY ARE PASSION TO GET A TEAM BACK AND THEY WELL GET ONE BACK SOON HAVE FUN ATLANTA IN THE WAITING LINE O WAIT THERE NO MORE CHANCES TO GET A TEAM LOL!!" - Nick, from Winnipeg
(apparently, punctuation is optional in Canada...as is the "caps lock" button)
"You guys are never getting a NHL TEAM back!!!" - Papi, from parts unknown
"Thrashers look better in Winnipeg. More fans and better fans. Go Jets Go!" Damian, from Winnipeg
"You guys all whine. You didn't support your team now they gone. We show you how fans support hockey when the Jets go to the playoffs and actually win. Cry atlanta you'll never see hockey again" - Brian, from Winnipeg
(although I suspect this one really came from the Burgermeister Meister Burger in disguise)
And it went on and on. Attacking helpless Atlantans, and gloating about the future success of the Jets now that they have returned to Winnipeg.
I put Chinese handcuffs on my fingers to prevent myself from typing out even the most mildly snide or snarky of responses.
I just waited for the season to play out, and to see how much the "will" of those clandestant canucks would actually make a difference in the team's performance.
Then came April 1st of this year. April Fools Day. How appropriate. That was the day that the Winnipeg Jets were eliminated from playoff contention in the 2012 NHL season. Oh glorious day! Is there ever anything more satisfying than seeing someone who tried to make you eat crow munching on the toe of their own snow boot?
The Jets will now finish the regular season with a record of 37-35-10, accumulating 84 points, and finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference. Congratulations Jets fans. Your team managed to improve by four points and one spot in the standings. How proud you must be. You've certainly shown us here in the deep south what hockey is all about. In fact, only two of the seven Canadian teams managed to make the playoffs this year.
Now maybe you folks will see that perhaps it wasn't the fans here in Atlanta that were to blame for the Thrashers continued lack of success. Maybe you'll see that it takes more than just wanting and willing a team to win. It takes talent. It takes smart management. It takes teamwork. These are all qualities that were rarely displayed while the team was here in Atlanta, and it would seem that for now, they are just as lacking while there in Winnipeg.
My friend Scottie put it best when he penned a short "ode to defeat" on that most memorable April 1st to the fans in Winnipeg:
"To the cheering crowds at Portage and Main:
I hope that now you understand that it's not about fan base. It's not about location. It's about factors beyond your control. So sit there today - the day of your elimination from playoff contention - and be told by the hockey world that it's your fault, Winnipeg. Realize that, no matter how much you willed it, you aren't going to advance.
Now you understand what its like."
Oh, and by the way Jets fans...your former, and first Jets team - the now Phoenix Coyotes, owned and operated by Gary Bettman and his band of thieves - just won their first ever division title. How's that curl your back bacon?
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