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Loving those Thrashers

By Doug Gorman

I still remember the first sports event I ever attended.

I was only four years old and my father took me to see a St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins playoff game at the old St. Louis Arena.

At the time, I didn't realize I was watching Bobby Orr, perhaps one of the greatest defensmen of all time skate for the Bruins, but it was a special day.

My father started something that spring afternoon in 1968, and now 36 years later, we still enjoy attending games together. We were together Sunday afternoon at Alexander Memorial Coliseum when the Georgia Tech men's basketball team knocked off St. John's to keep its perfect season intact.

But that day in 1968 I fell in love with the game of hockey. As a 4-year-old freckled-face kid I doubt I understood too much about the sport, but eventually I developed a real appreciation for the speed of the game, and yes I have to admit I even enjoyed the fighting that goes along with the sport.

Living in St. Louis, I got to listen to Dan Kelly, the greatest play-by-play hockey announcer to ever sit behind a mike. After moving to Philadelphia, I got to experience the excitement of the Flyers winning a Stanley Cup.

As fifth-graders tend to do, I quickly switched loyalties, as Bobby Clark and the Flyers became my heroes. It helped that my fifth-grade teacher Steve Duncan was perhaps the City of Brotherly Love's biggest Flyers fan and often talked hockey with us in school.

For more than 20 years I took a hiatus from following the sport. The same year I moved to Atlanta in 1980, the Flames hightailed it to Calgary and I could only get hockey in small doses.

Now, my love for the game as been rekindled thanks to the success of the Atlanta Thrashers.

The decision to bring in Bob Hartley as head coach at the tail end of last season is paying huge dividends.

The veteran NHL coach has the Thrashers in a serious run for the playoffs. Granted, there is a lot of hockey yet to be played, but with an 18-14-3 record the Thrashers are in first place in the South division, seven points ahead of Tampa Bay in the standings.

What the Thrashers have done so far has to be the feel good story of the year. When Dan Snyder died in a car accident and teammate Dany Heatley was seriously hurt right before the start of the season, the team could have easily packed this season in.

Instead they are playing inspired hockey. Ilya Kovalchuck is a young scoring machine for the Thrashers, who leads the NHL in scoring with 21 goals. Teammate Mark Savard has 37 points and goalies Bryan Defoe and Pasi Nurminen each have goals against average of less than 3.

There's a chance that Heatley could be back on the ice soon. He went through his first official skate Wednesday and he is due to speak to members of the media on Friday.

I hope Heatley can return. He still has some legal issues to work out, and even faces the possibility of jail time after being charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Snyder's family doesn't want Heatley to go to prison, and in this case, I agree. Heatley wasn't drunk and it this wasn't an intentional or violent act. It was a young kid with a lot of money driving too fast. Sending him to jail would serve no purpose. There are other ways for him to pay his debt to society, like using his celebrity status to speak to local school children on the dangers of driving too fast.

Despite the tragedy, the Thrashers have been a fun team to watch, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if a Stanley Cup comes to Atlanta before a World Series, Super Bowl or NBA title.

Doug Gorman is the sports editor the Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@henryherald.com.