Well, as the Thrashers fate in Atlanta gets tossed and turned about like a ship on rough seas, Ben over at Blueland Blog has asked us to recount our first Thrashers game and what turned us into a fan. My story is not that earth-shattering, but maybe unique in a sense.
I grew up in Maine. I live in Maine now and have lived here for my 21-year existence. Hockey has been in my blood since I was born. I turned my family into a hockey family after attending Portland Pirates (in the AHL) games as a young kid. It's been about 17 or 18 years since my first Pirates game, but I still have season tickets. I played hockey my whole life and still do, playing all through high school and in prep school thereafter.
I've always followed hockey avidly. It would surprise my teachers, peers, and probably my family how many stats I would know or how many random players and scores I could recount. But growing up, I never had a favorite NHL team. When I was about nine years old I wanted to learn how to speak French and move to Montreal and play for the Canadiens. That never materialized, if you didn't notice. But then the Thrashers entered the league. As a young kid I thought, "wow, they have cool jerseys!" and labeled myself a Thrashers fan. When you're 10 years old, who you support isn't that big of a deal.
When I turned 13 (the 2002-2003 season) I started listening to every game on the Internet radio. I was only able to watch 2 or 3 games a year, when they'd play the Bruins or be on national TV (yes, that actually happened). I still listened intently every night until we finally got the Center Ice package and I was able to watch every game. It would keep me going; I would sit in school, counting down the minutes until each game each night.
The first game I went to was in 2001 in Boston. I was an 11-year-old kid and I think I was rewarded with tickets for good grades on a report card. The Thrashers won that game, and my favorite player (and former Pirate) Andrew Brunette scored the game-winning goal. I then began making regular trips to Boston to see the team as I grew older. I've been to pretty much every game in Boston since 2006, but haven't seen them win there since 2007.
Afterwards, my love for the team never wavered. I never missed a game on TV or on the radio, and if I had to I was constantly checking for updates. This is MY team and no one was going to tell me otherwise. Kovy, Heater, Pasi...these were my guys and I loved them. I always felt that one day, this team would be at the top of the hockey world, and unfortunately as we see them inching closer they are on the verge of being snatched away from us.
After seeing the team play in Boston a few times, my dream then became to see the Thrashers play in Atlanta. I was lucky enough to fly down last winter with my mother and see two games; a 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers and an 8-1 loss at the hands of the Capitals. But it didn't matter; to see the team in Blueland was what I had always hoped for. After my initial trip (when it snowed, which was wild) I decided that I wanted to call Atlanta home some day. While many Atlantans may have varying opinions, I think it's a fantastic city. But the real lure for me is the Thrashers. Once I graduate, I want to skedaddle to Atlanta and call it home.
After my initial trip, I drove down on two other occasions. I went in March of 2010 on spring break and saw 3 games and drove down to see one game this past season, a 4-3 SO win over Philly. I've traveled to Madison Square Garden, Buffalo, and Philadelphia to see the Thrashers and would like to venture to other rinks. I can't get enough; to see the team play is my favorite thing to do, and when the calendar flips to September there's only one thing on my mind: Thrashers hockey.
I look back over the last decade of my life and can't imagine what it would be without it. We've all seen the ups and downs. The playoffs were so invigorating and I hope to the heavens that we can see them IN ATLANTA again. There were the near misses. Hell, I cried the day Dan Snyder died. This has been my team my whole life and I live 1,200 miles away. And you know what? It still breaks my heart to think about them moving.
Sure, I would love to follow the players and support them in Winnipeg. But I simply can't bring myself to stand along side other Winnipeg fans who have made it so clear they want to steal MY team. I honestly don't know what I'd do without the Thrashers over the past decade, and I can only imagine how my life would change without them in the future. Hockey is my blood and the Thrashers are the heart that keeps it pumping, every year for 82 (and once in a blue moon, 86!) games a year.
Here's to hoping, Thrashers fans. We all have a story like this. We all have a reason that we love our team. We all have fond memories of growing up watching games, getting hooked at our first live game, and heck, some of us even have met our significant others through hockey. And so, as this grueling sea-saw battle continues with gutless owners and Winnipeg scum, it is the fans that get lost in the shuffle. The fans that have devoted their time and their money, their lives and their hearts to a hockey team that may walk away into the Winnipeg sunset (if the sun even rises there?). If they do leave, it's been an incredible run despite the lack of on-ice success. And if they stay...it is going to be so nice to lift Lord Stanley's Cup, streaming live into your Winnipeg living room.