TORONTO - Colby Armstrong doesn’t miss hockey in Atlanta.
Nor does he think too many people down in Dixie do either.
In three seasons as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, Armstrong played 189 games in those, ah, colourful jerseys, scoring 41 goals, adding 39 assists and racking up 212 minutes in penalties.
Of course, on more than one occasion when his butt was planted in the Philips Arena penalty box, Armstrong probably could have counted the number of home fans in attendance before his two-minute minor had elapsed.
Is that a stretch? Perhaps. Then again, if you listen to Armstrong close enough, you get the feeling that it might not be as much of an exaggeration as you might think.
In the end, as everyone knows, the Thrashers are no more, having busted a move out of Atlanta over the summer for Winnipeg, where the weather is colder but the welcome for the team is far warmer.
On Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, the Winnipeg Thrashers — er, Jets — make their first appearance in Toronto since the franchise officially relocated from Georgia to Manitoba back in June.
With NHL hockey in Atlanta now resting in peace for a second time (remember the Atlanta Flames, Calgarians?), QMI Agency elicited the help of Armstrong and another former Thrasher-turned-Leaf, Clarke MacArthur, to break down The Good, The Bad and The Ugly about hockey life in Dixie.
In the end, both players felt the move to Winnipeg was outstanding. That, in itself, should tell you something.
Without further ado, here is their analysis.
Of all the things that puzzled Armstrong about being a Thrasher, perhaps nothing was more perplexing to him than the team’s slogan.
“Welcome to Blue Land.”
“I didn’t know what that meant and I still don’t,” he said. “One of the team colours was blue, but so are a lot of other teams’.
“I still don’t get it.”
PICK A COLOUR, PLEASE!
From a colour scheme that appeared as if every item in a Crayola box was used, to a uniform that was “busy,” to say the least, one word best described the Thrashers’ assortment of jerseys.
“I don’t know what they were looking for but there was a lot of action on that jersey,” Armstrong said. “Logos everywhere. A big swirly bird. And something like eight different colours.”
Then again, who’s counting?
Not only were crowds, on average, small, but when some of the big-name teams came to town like the Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Boston Bruins, there seemed to be more support from the stands for the visitors than the home side.
“Sometimes when we played against certain teams, they had more fans than we did,” Armstrong admitted.
“There was never really a buzz about hockey in Atlanta the entire time I was there. We had a small group of diehards that made up the Booster Club who were as passionate about our team and the game as you’ll find. They were good fans. At the same time, let me stress again — a very small group.”
DOES WINNING BREED DIXIE SUCCESS?
The Thrashers made the playoffs only once in their history only to be swept by the Rangers. Some claim the fact the team never won a post-season game in its entire existence is a big reason why it failed at the box office.
For his part, Armstrong is not so sure that would have mattered.
“I’m not sure about that,” Armstrong said. “It’s tough to say. They always said the city was waiting for a winner.
I don’t know. I thought it was a cool building with all the private boxes on the same side, but it was always empty.”
For MacArthur, going to a place where hockey was an afterthought took some getting used to.
“It was so different for me,” said MacArthur, who played 21 games as a Thrasher at the end of the 2009-10 season.
“I came from Buffalo, a blue collar place where they loved hockey and where the rink was packed every night. It wasn’t like that in Atlanta.”
Not even close.
In the end, Armstrong and MacArthur are happy for their former Thrasher teammates who now play in a market where people care about the game.
And the guys who play it.
“Keep in mind that some of the guys on the Jets roster were drafted by Atlanta,” Armstrong said. “They really didn’t know what home ice advantage was when they played there.
“They do now.”
Do they ever.
Welcome back, Winnipeg Jets.