Following Thrashers helped me keep memory of friend alive

Nearly three years ago I was talking with my friend Phil and discovered he liked hockey as much as much as I did.

It was something I never knew about t him, and I guess he never knew about me either.

Once we made that discover, we often journeyed to Phillips Arena together to see the Thrashers play.

Yes, you don't have to be from North of the border to appreciate the game. I have followed the NHL for more than 40 years. That's how long it's been since my father took me to my first game --the St. Louis Blues vs. the Boston Bruins. As a matter of fact, it was my first professional sporting event I ever saw.

Just a few short weeks after going to our last game together, Phil died of a massive heart attack. He was just 48 years old and left this world way too soon.

More than a year and a half later, I still miss my hockey buddy and great friend, but watching the Thrashers helped me keep his memory alive.

The Thrashers weren't very good, but I never thought they would leave Atlanta. After all, the NHL took the Flames away 30 yers ago, so there was no way it was going to happen again--or so I thought until the death sentence was carried out on Tuesday as it was announced a deal had been struck to sell the team to owners in Winnipeg.

Now, I feel betrayed and stabbed in the back by a former ownership group that didn't care. Sure, this is the South, and hockey won't ever be king of the sports world here in Georgia.

That will forever belong to college football, and with good reason, it is the most exciting sport on the planet. It's my favorite sport.

There's nothing better than sitting in a college football stadium on a crisp fall afternoon.

But given the right ownership, hockey would have worked in the seventh largest television market in the country. In fact, it could have thrived.

There is one prerequisite to succeeding if you are a pro sports franchise in Atlanta, and it's called winning.

When the Braves are winning, fans show up at the turnstiles. When the Falcons are winning, fans show up at the turnstiles. When the Hawks are winning, fans show up at the turnstiles.

Do you see a pattern here?

Same with the Thrashers. Although they didn't have too much success, during their one playoff year in 2007, Phillips Arena was rocking.

Unfortunately, this franchise seemed to be set up to fail from the beginning. The Atlanta Spirit never cared if the Thrashers skated to victory. Since they owned the Hawks and also Phillips Arena, the Thrashers were nothing more than a burden.

They claim they tried to sell the team to a local owner, or at least somebody who would keep them in town, but I don't think they strained themselves.

Because of legal battles with a former partner, this last group only had full ownership for a short time--so they tried to find a new local owner for months--not years like they say.

Commissioner Gary Bettman could have stepped up and taken some action too.

So could the city of Atlanta. Neither cared.

I bet this city would have stepped to the plate if the Braves, Hawks or Falcons were in danger of leaving town.

Like hockey or not, losing an NHL team hurts in the pocket book. It puts people out of work and it makes young fans cry.

Losing an NHL franchise twice is a black eye for the city.

Will we recover? Sure. Will be ever get a crack at another NHL franchise? Probably not in my lifetime.

Thanks Atlanta Spirit.

At least I have some memories of going to games with a good friend, and no matter how much the Atlanta Spirit HATES hockey, they can't take that away.

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com.