Thanks Thrashers, I'm going to miss you

Hockey is a game played on frozen water and not always appreciated or understood in the South.

And barring some kind of huge miracle, the great city of Atlanta will lose its second NHL franchise in 30 years.

Again to one of our Canadian friends as the team is expected to land in Winnipeg in just a few days.

That's a disgrace. Hockey can work in the South, and it can especially work in Atlanta, the eighth largest TV market in the country.

For me , hockey has a special place in my heart. Before my dad ever took me to a baseball or football game, I went to a hockey game.

It was a playoff contest between the St. Louis Blue and Boston Bruins at the old Arena. I was all of five years old and knew nothing about the game.

the next year, I was an avid Blues fan. Sure, I grew up loving all sports, and like most Georgians, my passion for college football runs deep, and always will. It is after all is my favorite sport.

But put me in the minority, because hockey ranks up there too.

I was never a great skater, but one Christmas, St. Nick put a pair of BobOrr skates under my tree.

Orr was the great defenseman of the Boston Bruins, and in the early 1970s perhaps the game's greatest player.

There was a skating rink near the house and ponds just up the street to skate on when they froze over during the cold St. Louis winters.

I even played in an organized street hockey league at the YMCA., scoring two goals in my first game ever. From then on I was hooked.

As a child, hockey helped solve some hurts and disappointments.

Like the time, we moved from St. Louis to Philadelphia when my father, a former regional manager with GE, transferred us there as he climbed the company ladder. To soften my disappointment about saying good-bye to friends in St. Louis, he reminded me the Philadelphia Flyers were the defending Stanley Cup Champs.

They repeated the next year. It was an exciting time for a fourth-grader who quickly became a fan of Flyers' captain BobClarke. Clarke often had no front teeth, but in his No. 16 Flyers jersey, he was one of my boyhood sports heroes.

Sadly enough, I moved to Atlanta the year the Flames left town.

When the Thrashers came to Atlanta in 1999 I felt we were now a full-fledged Major League city again.

It has never worked out.

Bad teams, and bad luck, including only one trip to the playoffs and no-postseason wins the whole time the franchise has been in existence has not helped matters.

But things could have, and should have been different. The Thrashers have been saddled with ownership that has never cared. I wonder how many games they never have even been to?

The Atlanta Spirit, LLC, the current owners, have liked hockey from day one, treating it like the red-headed stepchild. They only owned the team as a package deal to go along with the Hawks and Phillips Arena.

If there was a prize for the worst owners in sports, they would get it hands down.

The NHL hasn't helped either. Commissioner Gary Bettman has stabbed the fan base of this city in the back, saying early on the last thing he wanted to do was move the franchise.

Some reports are now surfacing to suggest the NHL had secretly approved negations and the subsequent sale and relocation of the team months ago.

Simply put, Thrasher fans have been lied to, big time.

Earlier this week, on a show he host over satellite radio, Bettman continued to step around the question.

"We get reports, speculation, that the team's gone. And there's no deal," Bettman said. "I can tell you that with certainty that there is no deal for this team to move. Am I predicting that there will never be or that there won't be at some point in time? No, I'm not saying there is or there isn't."

Nice spin.

Bettman probably has hotel reservations for Winnipeg next week so he can attend the city's celebration as it marks the return to the NHL.

I don't understand some of the politics involved, but it sounds like the NHL stands to gain financially from a relocation fee, and the Thrashers fan are going to pay a heavy prize.

This lousy ownership group, has claimed they have been trying to sell the team to a owner who would keep them in Atlanta for years, but how can that be true ? Ownership issues were tied up in the courts until a few short months ago, so there was no way they could sell.

At least that is what Thrasher fans were told. Then we could have been lied to again.

Now, because an offer sits on the table from potential buyers in Winnipeg, the Atlanta Spirit is going to take the money and run.

In my opinion, no real effort has been launched to try and find someone to keep them here.

Even if you don't like hockey, it's a sad day. Just being here, the Thrashers created jobs and revenue for Atlanta.

A rally Thrasher fans is planned Saturday, but I am afraid it's too late.

Like a condemned man on death row, the stay is about to be lifted and a lethal dose injected into the hockey fans of this city.

This time NHL hockey is gone for good.

I guess I will have to become a Flyers or Blues fan again.

Hey, it worked for me 30 years ago, so why not now.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Da)