Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Atlanta Thrashers – New York Islanders (28-02-2008)

February is not a good month for sports in the US. Both the football (no, it’s not ‘soccer’!) and the American football seasons have not started yet, and neither has the baseball competition (if one would care to go and watch that). So, you by and large have (professional or college) basketball and ice hockey to chose from, an easy choice, even in Atlanta.

Together with my girlfriend and some of her friends I arrived late at the Philips Arena (yes, Eindhoven’s second source of pride, after PSV, is everywhere!). That’s the price you pay for going to a good Mexican restaurant before the game. Anyway, we park close to the arena and join a large group of people – being late at a sports event is not a problem in the US, as the sports is secondary to the eating. We had ordered tickets online, at just 29 dollar per two!

As most sports arenas in the US, the Philips Arena is a combination of a food court, an entertainment park, and a sports arena. Still, it is a beautiful sight. It was opened in 1999 and cost a staggering 213.5 million dollar to build. It is home to both the local basketball (Hawks) and hockey team (Thrashers). For hockey games it can hold 18,545 people. While hockey is not big in the South, the Atlanta Thrashers have built a quite nice following in their ten years of existence. On average they draw a crowd of 15,768. Unfortunately, for this low-key game against the New York Islanders the arena was only half full (my estimate, but maybe everyone was just eating).

As in the previous times I visited an NHL game, I was far from impressed by what I saw. The Thrashers were absolutely dramatic in the back and were 2-0 behind after 10 minutes. Both goals were mistakes of the Thrashers rather than good plays by the (also poor) Islanders. The Thrashers are a strange team: most players are fairly unknown, and those known, are in their late thirties (e.g. Hedberg, Holik, Recchi). The Islanders have always been in the shadow of their big city rivals, the New York rangers. I mainly was interested in Miroslav Satan, who does not only have the coolest name in sports, but is also a very good Slovak forward. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in this game.

After the Islanders had scored their third, it was time for a break, in which I checked out all the food places. Shortly in the second period the Thrashers finally scored: 3-1. For some bizarre reason, the Islanders completely fell apart and by the end of the second period the score was equal: 3-3. The third period was tight and therefore exciting, even if the hockey itself remained of poor quality. Quickly into the third period the Islanders scored the 3-4, but 1.22 minutes before the end old-timer Bobby Holik equalized: 4-4 and extra time. The crowd went wild.

The euphoria and refound optimism of the Thrashers fans was short-lived, however. Three minutes into extra time the Islanders scored: 4-5 and game over! On the upside, the (many) Thrashers fans at least had some sense of pride, even if it lasted for just a couple of minutes. On the downside, until they will buy a lot of new players, the Thrashers will remain a team struggling to even make the play-offs, let alone win them.

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