ATLANTA, GA - MAY 21: Atlanta Thrashers fans rally and put up signs to help keep the team in Atlanta at Philips Arena on May 21, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. It has been reported the Thrashers may relocate to Winnipeg, Canada. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
It's getting late in August, and that means hockey camps, exhibition games and the regular season are just around the corner (and none too soon, either!). Those of us in Tampa Bay Lightning country are looking forward to a new season with a promising future, but what about those that have been left behind?
What about those forlorn birds in Georgia…you know, the Atlanta Thrashers? Oh wait; they’re the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets now, aren’t they? So, what about the fans they left behind? Who are they going to root for now? And yes, they did have their followers as well, quite a few, believe it or not. This is not a jab at Winnipeg fans and their efforts to return the NHL to their city. To them, I offer my congratulations and say, "Welcome back."
But what about the Atlanta Thrashers faithful that no longer have a home team to support? I know some folks will say "who cares?" and others will say they can pick the next closest team (the Carolina Hurricanes or maybe the Nashville Predators) or follow the team that has become the Jets from afar.
The Predators have the advantage of being only about a four and a half hour drive from Atlanta. The down side to that plan is the Thrashers played in the Eastern Conference, while the Predators are in the Western Conference. Atlanta fans might not have as much experience with the players and teams of the other circuit. Also there is that one hour time difference thing between the two cities to consider.
The Hurricanes on the other hand, are in the same division and would offer the familiarity of common players and teams to the Atlanta fan base although the drive time is almost twice as long (around seven hours). In comparison to the time it takes to get to Raleigh, the drive between Atlanta and Tampa only takes about half an hour longer.
But what about the Tampa Bay Lightning? Wouldn’t it be nice of us to reach out to those fans and invite them to become a member of Bolts Nation? Has there been any effort by the team itself to do so?
How about us, Lightning fans? Have we been derelict in our duties as hockey fans to try and make those Thrashers refugees feel welcome in Bolts Nation? After all, the NHL can’t bear to lose too many fans. And how would we, as Tampa Bay Lightning fans, feel if it were our team that got sold off and dragged out of town?
Now, I understand that Thrashers fans might be disillusioned and still angry at the NHL for the way this whole situation was handled. The way it seemed that the Phoenix Coyotes have had all too many chances (and still lack an owner), while the Thrashers were hung out to dry almost immediately. I can safely say I’d be upset too, as would a number of other Lightning fans, if that had been us instead of them. Be angry at the league if you want, Thrashers fans, I don’t blame you. But don’t give up on this game that we all love.
I also know that while the Lightning and Thrashers were not bitter nor storied rivals, a rivalry was there. The Lightning all time record against the Thrashers was 36 wins - 23 losses - 4 ties and 5 OTL. During that time, Tampa scored 220 goals and Atlanta scored 193, so the series was always close.
I realize some Thrashers fans might have a bit of a hard time following any team that spent the last ten years competing against their old team on the ice, but I’m hoping that Atlanta fans might be willing to look past that and still want to see some very exciting hockey by a very good team.
So, with all of that being said, let me do my part and take this opportunity to invite you, Atlanta hockey fans, to come join us in Tampa Bay land. We promise we’re a friendly bunch and we’ll be more than happy to introduce you to the ins and outs of the Tampa Bay Lightning and "our guys".
The ones your already know – Captain Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos just to name a few. We’ll also introduce you to our lunch pail guys. The ones that put on a hard hat and work on the third and fourth line, not for glory or recognition, but because it takes everyone together to win. You’ll find out from Lightning fans that we are "ALL IN". We’ll tell you all about Nate Thompson, Eric Brewer and Dwayne Roloson too, just to name a few more.
Come chat with us at Raw Charge during our game threads and see the Lightning from our point of view. Give us your thoughts, post a story on Raw Charge and make yourselves at home.
We want you as hockey fans to stick around and we also want you to feel welcome to come on over to our side of the fence and sit a spell. Pull up a chair, kick back, take your shoes off and relax. It’s almost time for hockey season and it’s going to be a great ride. Come join us, won’t you?