If some Atlanta Thrashers players are reluctant to move to Winnipeg, Evander Kane certainly isn’t one of them.
The 19-year-old was happy to see a definitive resolution to the Thrashers saga, which officially came on Tuesday when the NHL announced the club was re-locating to Winnipeg.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity. Anywhere in Canada, I’d love to go play. Going to Winnipeg with the Jets, they have a good tradition and history there,” “Kane told Rogers Sportsnet on Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to renewing that and being a big part of it. I’m looking forward to that and getting this thing going.”
The past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for the Thrashers players, who weren’t sure where they were going to end up next season. Since the middle of May, there have been reports that a Thrashers move to Winnipeg was imminent – but swift denials often followed.
“I just remember when that report came out and I guess it’s dragged on. It was kind of getting frustrating for everyone involved – just make a decision one way or another. In the end, it happened the way everyone thought it was going to happen with the move to Winnipeg,” said Kane. “Now that it’s official, we can focus on that and getting set up in Winnipeg.”
Kane says he’s happy to trade the anonymity of playing in front of sparse crowds in Atlanta, for the passionate fan base in Winnipeg. The Thrashers finished 28th out of 30 teams in NHL attendance this season and their media coverage in the local papers is often overshadowed by the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and college sports.
“For me, playing in a Canadian city there is a lot more pressure and you’re definitely under the microscope a lot more and that’s something I’m looking forward to,” explained Kane. “I played junior in Vancouver and it’s a pretty high-profile junior market, so there’s definitely attention. And playing in the NHL in a Canadian market, there is going to be a lot of attention.”
Atlanta has lost its NHL franchise for a second time, having watched the Flames re-locate to Calgary in 1980. In this latest attempt to bring hockey back to Georgia, the Thrashers failed miserably on the ice. In 11 seasons, they managed to make the playoffs just once – and were promptly swept in the opening round by the New York Rangers in 2006. The fans then watched a parade of big names, such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa walk out the door for opportunities in other cities. It was a recipe for disaster in a city that does not have deep hockey roots.
“I think Atlanta was a non-traditional hockey market. I think that’s the biggest thing. There wasn’t a lot of people who knew a great deal about hockey, but there were people willing to learn,” says Kane, when asked about the fan support in Atlanta. “We had a great group of core fans who came out to all of our games and some of our practices. I want to thank those people and thank the entire city for coming out and supporting myself and our entire team for the two years I was there. It’s really disappointing for the Atlanta fans and myself to be leaving Atlanta so soon into my career.
Kane said he and some of his teammates have been discussing the move to Winnipeg via text messaging over the past week. Andrew Ladd even sent out a message to the entire team, joking that American Ron Hainsey was going to have to get used to the cold Canadian winters. Kane says that he was only renting an apartment in Atlanta, so leaving the city won’t be too difficult from a logistical standpoint for him. But for other teammates – with houses and families – the next few weeks will be hectic as the reality of moving to a new city sets in.
“I think there will be a lot more chatter. I’m sure there is a lot of guys planning trips back to Atlanta to get their stuff moved out to Winnipeg. It’ll be an interesting couple of weeks, that’s for sure,” added Kane.