Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thrashers fans holding out hope

Last-ditch effort to show support will proceed

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ATLANTA -- With rumours swirling, the fate of the Atlanta Thrashers remained uncertain Friday as fans planned a possible last-ditch effort to show support for the NHL team.

A rally was scheduled for today outside Philips Arena in conjunction with a select-a-seat event for current and prospective season-ticket holders, scheduled to go on as planned despite the franchise's cloudy future.

"We're going to go have a good time and hang out with our hockey family," said Lisa Lewis, president of the Thrashers fan club. "If it's our last time, well, at least we get that chance."

There was no way of knowing if a strong turnout would have any impact on reported negotiations between the Thrashers ownership and Winnipeg-based True North Sports and Entertainment, though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on his weekly radio show that "it will be interesting to see how many people show up."

A Facebook page named "Keep the Thrashers in Atlanta" urged fans to turned up at the noontime rally, which will be held in a gritty parking area known as "The Gulch."

"Bring everyone you know! Even if they just want to party with people! We need a HUGE crowd! KEEP OUR THRASHERS IN ATLANTA!!" the organizer of the page wrote.

Lewis said she expected several hundred fans to show up.

"People need to get in there and take the long shot," she said. "Don't sit back and say, 'Oh, they're leaving,' and not take the leap of faith. Let's at least get together one last time and show them, 'Hey, there are fans here in Atlanta. They're still showing up to support their team."'

The Thrashers owners, known as Atlanta Spirit, claim $130 million in losses since 2005 and have made it clear they no longer want the NHL team, which has made the playoffs only once in 11 seasons and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in attendance this year. While the preference is to find new ownership that would keep the team in Atlanta, no one has come forward with a legitimate offer.

True North reportedly is willing to pay $110 million for the team and another $60 million to the league as a relocation fee. Lewis said talk of a possible move "came out of left field."

"I feel like they didn't take the proper amount of time to really find a local buyer," she said. "They really haven't put in a good-faith effort for the fans here."

Lewis, who hasn't missed a game in five years, said crowds would've been much better if the Thrashers had managed more than one winning season.

"When you don't put a winning product on the ice, when you don't see a heartfelt effort on the ice, then people don't want to be there," she said.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2011 C1

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