Posted by: emmaharger | August 2, 2011

I feel your pain: A Thrashers fan’s advice for Islanders fans

My dear Islanders fans,

I am truly sorry to hear that the vote to finance a new stadium has failed. It sounds like some elements of the electorate who probably have never been to a game or may not even like hockey at all managed to hijack the issue, frame it a certain way and ride the momentum they created to this conclusion. This sort of dirty politicking is unfortunately all too familiar.

I feel like I have some experience in this field. But I also feel a need to point out where your situation differs from mine and why you should not give up hope just yet.

First: it’s not over until everything is completely, totally official. There are no definite plans yet for anything. We know the team has four years left on its lease with the Coliseum. Do you know how long four years is? So many things can happen! Perhaps private or corporate funding for a new stadium can be found. Perhaps some sort of new agreement with the Coliseum can be found. Four years is quite a long time to figure something else. Consider: my team had about four weeks between the announcement of negotiations with True North and the announcement of the sale. Yes, you hear all those things about Kansas City and Quebec City and Hartford, all of that, but it is not nearly at the same stage things were at in May with the Thrashers. There are no known plans, no organizations coming forward yet and officially declaring their intent to, you know, make a new team somewhere by taking the Islanders.

Second: do not expect widespread support, either from fellow fans or NHL players. In my case there was a lot of “Congratulations, Winnipeg!” from all sorts of sources, going as far up the chain as Paul Bissonnette and Jonathan Toews, but pretty much no “Sorry, Atlanta!” from the players I’m keyed into. I’ve had friends wonder why that is so. I suppose in the Islanders’ case it’s that same sort of outdated “Islanders suck!” rhetoric Vicky spoke about in her latest post. In my case it was “But it’s hot in the South, how can there be hockey?” Other fans may–and will, in fact–make insensitive jokes and remarks, minimize your feelings or tell you you’re overreacting or you need to get over it. I have experienced all of these things personally. There will be people who are, you know, decent human beings and who will not be jerks to you. Hang on to them. They’re your real friends and fellow fans.

Third: know that, if the worst were to happen and the Islanders did indeed pitch up and move somewhere else after 2015 (God forbid this happens, and I do not want it to), you would be able to get closure. I had no idea that the game on April 10 was the final game ever. If I had known, I think I would have done things differently. I’m happy I went, but I went thinking there would be more in September. I wish to God there had been an official final season, a chance for us to really legitimately say goodbye and for the team to say goodbye too. The fact that this didn’t happen to us still rubs Thrashers fans raw and is going to be one of those things we hold as a seething, bitter resentment until we’re old and wrinkled and shouting in some sports bar about how back in 2011…

Don’t give up now. Things look bad, but I know a case where precedent is on your side. In Columbus, Ohio, this same thing happened: a referendum to build a new arena for the then-budding Blue Jackets failed in 1997 after they began an expansion bid. (Speaking of expansion bids, I fail to understand how these could not have been used in, say, Winnipeg and Kansas City now. It would expand the league to an even 32 and no one would be hurt. Never mind that, though.) Nationwide insurance company stepped in to finance the arena and so Columbus was awarded the Blue Jackets. Also consider two other teams that recently were teetering on the brink of relocation: the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. In those cases, new owners stepped in, which is possible with the Islanders; you benefit from a longer history and more possibilities of former players pitching in to help the team, something Atlanta honestly and sadly did not have.

Poor ownership decisions sank my team. (Protip to Atlanta Spirit: even in good economic times, let alone a recession, a hockey team is not a house you can renovate, flip and resell for profit soon after purchase.) I hope bad decisions do not sink your team too, but you have time on your side. Know that, if anyone understands what you might be feeling right now, it’s me, and we can talk if you need to talk it out. Keep hope alive.

Love sincerely,

Emma


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