Oilers' Nelson sad hockey failed in Atlanta

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 PM ET

PENTICTON, B.C. - Todd Nelson wasn’t popping any champagne corks or waving any flags when the Thrashers became the Jets last summer.

For him, it was a sad day when Atlanta’s team moved to Winnipeg.

And not just because it’s, you know, Winnipeg.

Nelson spent two seasons as an assistant coach with Atlanta and hates that hockey didn’t get a fair chance to succeed.

“It’s disappointing,” said Nelson, a few hours before Edmonton played Winnipeg for the first time in 15 seasons. “I worked there for two years and I thought — I still think to this day — that that market can have a team.

“It’s a shame because I really enjoyed my time there and really enjoyed the city. There are passionate (hockey) people there, but once again, they’re paying top dollar to watch hockey and they want to have a winner.”

The Thrashers had some big names who pass through town — Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Dany Heatley and Marc Savard, but only made the playoffs once in their existence. In a non-traditional southern U.S. market, that’s pretty much a death sentence.

“After 12 years, eventually you’re going to have to get a winner,” said Nelson. “People want to see winners. If ownership had made the commitment to spend a few bucks, I think that things could have worked.

“They made the playoffs one year and in the two games they had at home, it was just electric in the building.”

Nelson knows a lot of Thrashers employees who lost their jobs when the team packed up, forgotten victims in all the Manitoba euphoria.

“I have a lot of friends who worked in the organization, so it kind of hits home a bit with me. It’s a wonderful city, it’s too bad it didn’t work.

“On the flip side of it, Winnipeg has an NHL team and tremendous support. It’s a very exciting time for the Winnipeg fans.”

TOUGH ONE TO MISS: Too bad the guys making up the Edmonton rosters for the Young Stars Tournament don’t have a better eye for a good story.

If they did, the only Winnipeg-born player in Edmonton’s camp would have been in the lineup for their first game against the Jets.

Instead, defenceman Tyler Schmidt had to watch from the stands.

“It would have been nice to play against the Jets and have that story for the rest of your life,” he said. “Hopefully some day I’ll get another crack at it.”

Schmidt already has a decent story to tell from being on the front lines, right there among the screaming fans, the day Winnipeg got a team back.

“I was there when they announced it, down at The Forks,” he said. “For the city, it’s unbelievable. Everyone is so excited; it’s going to be a great year.”

But only being 21 he admits most of his memories of the original Jets are either foggy or second hand.

“I was probably five or six years old when they were there,” he said. “I don’t remember much of them, but I heard my grandparents and parents talking about the games through the years.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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