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Winnipeg's celebration of playoff hockey opens old wounds in Atlanta

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The hockey world was abuzz Monday with the return of NHL playoff hockey to Winnipeg. But for fans in Atlanta who lost this team to relocation four years ago, it was anything but joyous.

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One spring morning back in 2010, I awoke on the floor of a disgusting motel room in Wilmington, N.C., after a friend allegedly spent 10 minutes hitting me with a pillow.

"Is he dead?" I heard as I slowly regained consciousness. "Should we call someone?"

I had no idea a headache could hurt this much. A sane, somewhat logical person would have seen this coming, as I spent the night before mixing Jamaican rum that came in a plastic bottle into cans of Coors Light -- like a moron.

I drank enough of this objectively embarrassing concoction to email one of my state congressmen and admit my love for Natasha Bedingfield's music to a group of elderly strangers. I hadn't eaten anything since roughly 5:30 p.m.; a drop of water hadn't touched my lips in at least 16 hours. Oh, and there was a small plant in my back pocket, along with a handful of mulch.

"This is rock bottom," I thought as I removed the left side of my face from a carpet that was probably installed during the Nixon administration. Following a lopsided battle with gravity, I managed to stand up.

Many people have asked me what it feels like to watch the Winnipeg Jets compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Truth be told, it's the emotional equivalent of waking up to an all-time hangover while being pulverized in the skull with a suspiciously off-color cushion.

I should explain why.

I'm an Atlanta native who grew up watching the Thrashers. I was devastated when they left, and, though a number of years have passed since relocation, I'd be lying if I said I'm over it. I'd also be lying if I said I enjoy the sport as much as I once did.

Remaining a part of the hockey community after losing your team is like spending every day on Facebook looking at photos of your ex-girlfriend -- whom you still love -- wrapped around another guy. Not just any guy, mind you: This man is the blue-collar, charming underdog even your mother can't help but fawn over.

He has an impressive vinyl collection filled with indie records you've never heard of but would almost definitely enjoy. He posts endearing pictures of himself embracing impoverished children. His Rolex is probably real.

He fell on some hard times a while back, and dang it, he was due for a good break.

Everyone -- and I mean everyone ­­-- thinks he's better for her than you ever could have been. And, even though four years have gone by since the big breakup, people just won't shut up about it.

"I'm so happy for him," they say right to your face. "No one deserves her more than Johnny Manitoba.

"You never cared for her like he does."

These words hurt, mostly because there's an element of truth in them. Your relationship with this girl was regularly questioned from start to finish. It was rocky, nontraditional, uncertain. You had loyal supporters, and you shared a couple good years together, but the peanut gallery thought she should have been dating someone far more affluent, someone far more deserving.

Someone who actually had his shit together.

So yeah, it stings. A lot. Hockey is a game, and it doesn't matter much when viewed in the right perspective. Still, it's always different when dealing with pieces of one's own childhood. Having a team to cheer for got me through some hard times as a kid and allowed me to develop a mighty passion.

Nevertheless, it's hard to focus on the positives while looking at the white out, while hearing the MTS Centre erupt in a way Philips Arena hardly (if ever) did. It was especially difficult to watch Bryan Little fire a slapshot past Frederik Andersen in Game 3 on Monday. All I could think about were the hours spent trying to convince the five readers of my old blog how good Little was back in 2008.

It sucks, yet at the same time, I don't want the Jets to fail again. Failure wouldn't make things right here, and it'd only hurt those who already went through similar anguish in the '90s. Some Winnipeg fans have been cruel about the move, sure, but most seem like good people.

So now I'm conflicted. I want Little, Tobias Enstrom, Chris Thorburn, Ondrej Pavelec and Jim Slater to enjoy playoff hockey. I want the Jets supporters who treated Atlanta with respect to be rewarded. I truly do.

That said, the thought of my old team celebrating a championship in a building more than 1,500 miles away makes me want to drink all the cheap rum and Coors Light in the world.