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Men without hats

Long time since a Jet/Thrasher scored three goals in a game

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It is a moment in Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history that remains frozen in time like some sort of ice-bound vessel trapped in the Arctic Ocean.

In fact, it could also be said as the days and games have passed since Dec. 18, 2010 -- the last time a player with this franchise recorded a hat trick -- the moment has taken on an almost mythical feel to it.

That the three-goal effort was authored by Eric Boulton, a man with 29 career goals, while playing on a fourth line that included Chris Thorburn and Jim Slater and was jokingly dubbed the "Greek Gods" -- and came against, in part, hall-of-fame netminder Martin Brodeur (who was chased from the net after four goals) -- gives the occasion even that much more a folklore feeling.

"Shocking night," said Evander Kane, recalling the game over three years ago, "and definitely entertaining, that's for sure.

'I mean, nobody expects Eric Boulton to score a hat trick. That line was clicking. It was fun to see, fun to be a part of that night'

-- Jets forward Evander Kane, on the last hat trick scored by a Jet/Thrasher Dec. 18, 2010 by Eric Boulton, above

"I mean, nobody expects Eric Boulton to score a hat trick. That line was clicking. It was fun to see, fun to be a part of that night."

But this much is also true: Of all the snipers who have worn Jets/Thrashers colours over the years -- from throwbacks to the Georgia days like Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, to current stars such as Kane, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler -- the fact it was Boulton, a tough guy who has carved out a career primarily with his fists, who would be the last to score three times in one game is both comical and, yes, shocking.

There was a time during the 2010-11 season when the upstart Thrashers were starting to make some noise around the NHL neighbourhood. And when Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils exited Atlanta late on Dec. 18, 2010 after being summarily dumped 7-1, the Thrashers had not only improved to 18-11-5, but had taken over first place in the Southeast Division.

How "odd" was the whole night? Not only did Boulton score three -- his previous season high had been four -- Ron Hainsey and Chris Thorburn also scored and Thorburn picked up two assists. All totalled, the Boulton-Thorburn-Slater trio combined for seven points.

And the three stars that evening? Boulton, Thorburn and Hainsey. That's a trio that rarely did the quick twirl on the ice post-game, let alone together on one night.

Boulton's third goal, just FYI, came with 3:06 remaining and put Atlanta up 6-1.

"I honestly thought I would not get that last one," Boulton told Kevin Allen of USA Today at the time. "I thought this was too good to be true."

Said Thrashers' coach Craig Ramsay to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "You don't pigeonhole people. Give them a chance to participate in all aspects of the game and you'll be rewarded."

A whole lot of miles have passed, both literally and figuratively, since Boulton's heroics a week before Christmas in 2010. The Thrashers pulled up stakes and relocated to Winnipeg without Boulton, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Devils in the summer of 2011 and then with the New York Islanders a year later.

But as much as this franchise has been all about new life, new beginnings, new history since then, one thing hasn't changed: Not a single member of the Jets/Thrashers has done the hat-trick thing since.

Now, it's not like there haven't been nights when it seemed imminent. Fifty-seven times since Boulton's magical night a Jet has registered two goals in a game, including 11 times by both Kane and Wheeler, 10 times by Ladd and another eight by Bryan Little.

Kane was the last to come close, potting two goals in a span of just over two minutes in Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. And don't think for a moment he wasn't gunning for a third.

"Scoring a hat trick in all the goal sports, like hockey or soccer... as a goal scorer, those are fun things to get and be a part of," said Kane. "But think about it: two years ago Shane Doan got the first hat trick of his career. You'd think a veteran guy like Shane would have at least a couple after playing that long.

"Hopefully mine doesn't take that long," Kane added with a grin. "I'm sure it will happen one day."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2014 C8

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