WINNIPEG - The wait isn’t just over for hockey fans in Winnipeg.
As the official announcement came down on Tuesday, you can count Atlanta Thrashers players among those who are excited to see the process come to a resolution.
“It was expected but emotionally, you’re kind of all over the place,” Thrashers goalie Chris Mason said from Red Deer, Alta. “Now that it’s done, everyone is real excited to move forward. I watched the press conference and you can’t help but be excited when you see the excitement in Winnipeg. It’s pretty fun to be a part of.
“I’m a fan of hockey as well. It’s pretty neat to be going somewhere that’s so excited and so ready to have a team. I can’t imagine how the people there felt. You know the history with the Jets and everything. Every Canadian kid grew up watching the Jets. It was terrible when they left, not just for the people of Winnipeg but for everyone in Canada.”
Several Thrashers players weighed in via twitter.
“I want to thank all the Thrashers fans that supported us in Atlanta for my two years there. Very unfortunate there will be no NHL hockey,” said Thrashers winger Evander Kane. “And for all the Jets fans I’m on board with keeping the Jets name and logo, just wanted to throw it out there.”
“I want to thank all of the loyal fans in Atlanta you were as passionate as any other city,” added Thrashers winger Anthony Stewart. “Looking forward to the new challenge!”
Atlanta Spirit president and former Thrashers general manager Don Waddell thinks Manitobans will be excited about the team they’re adopting.
“I’m excited about the team,” said Waddell. “We have 13 players under the age of 26 or 27 and we had a tremendous first half of the season last year and we were in first place at Christmas-time. Then we won three out of our next 20 and fell out of it. I think it was the experience factor.
“This team is positioned to continue to move forward. We have some very good young players. This franchise is going to be in good shape. Winnipeg is going to be very happy with the team they’re getting.”
Waddell also suggested the theory about Winnipeg having trouble attracting free agents would prove false.
“If anything, there’s probably some opportunity for players who are going to be on the market on July 1,” said Waddell. “A lot of players want to play in Canada and in Winnipeg. I think it’s going to be an opportunity for the Winnipeg market and the hockey team to surround themselves with some better players. I don’t see it as a hindrance at this point. They’re in good shape moving forward and they’ll make their decisions on what they need to add to the hockey team.”
Michael Gearon Jr., one of the Atlanta Spirit Group owners, was emotional when discussing the departure of the franchise.
“You get in a situation where you are faced with no other options, and that’s where we are,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s emotional. It’s painful. It’s saddening.”
When asked what he would say to fans in Atlanta who lost their team, Chipman gave pause.
“We certainly don’t take any satisfaction in this occurring,” said Chipman. “From what I can gather, there was a very loyal and devoted group of fans down there. I don’t take satisfaction in the fact they’ve lost a team. I really don’t. We’re just obviously very very excited about what this means to the fans in this community.”