Atlanta Hockey…Take 3?

By: Colin Lacy

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

October is a great time for sports fans in the state of Georgia.

On any given night, you could have the first pitch for another Atlanta Braves Postseason run, or tipoff for an early season Atlanta Hawks game. Maybe you’re heading to the Benz for an Atlanta United match.

When the weekends roll around, you might be “Between the Hedges,” filing into Bobby Dodd Stadium, or tailgating at Allen E. Paulson getting ready for boot meet ball for your college football Saturday.

Then get to Sunday afternoon to see Kirk Cousins (or maybe Michael Penix Jr….. That’s a whole other story) taking snaps for the Falcons. So, what is Georgia Sports missing? A Puck drop?

Back in March, Alpharetta Sports & Entertainment officially announced they requested the NHL Commissioner and Board of Governors to commence a new expansion process to bring an NHL franchise back to Atlanta.

Alpharetta Sports & Entertainment is fronted by former NHL player and current Turner Sports analyst Anson Carter.

Carter has been extremely outspoken about the NHL making the return to Atlanta for what would be the third time in a number of years and has had multiple conversations with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the possibility of expansion.

The potential ownership group has planned construction of 18,000-seat arena around North Point Mall in Alpharetta and plans expand the surrounding area into a commercial mini-metropolis much like the Battery Atlanta is around Truist Park.

The location has been one of the main selling points to the NHL as to why the two previous franchises didn’t succeed in the metro-Atlanta area.

Carter and the other potential owners believe that headquartering the franchise in Alpharetta helps solve the issues that stood most recently at Philips Arena (now State Farm Arena). This is the same idea that the Braves are now thriving with in Cobb County and developing the Battery and surrounding area.

Atlanta hockey has seen two previous renditions with the Atlanta Flames from 1972-1980 before being re-located to Calgary.

Take two saw the Atlanta Thrashers call (then) Philips Arena home from 1999-2011 before being moved to Winnipeg to become the Winnipeg Jets.

The NHL has only added four expansion teams since the Atlanta Thrashers were created in 1999. The next season in 2000, the NHL expanded to thirty teams with the addition of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild.

It would be 16 years before the next new NHL franchise. The league would add one more team to get to thirty-one total teams with the 2016 expansion franchise of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Knights proved to be a success with the Stanley Cup Championship coming in their first year of existence (2017-18 season).

Most recently the NHL became a 32-team outfit with the addition of the Seattle Kraken beginning in the 2021-22 season.

Although the NHL has said that currently they have no plans for expansion, there are many that are optimistic that the Atlanta area would be on the top of the list to get an expansion franchise.

The construction of the new arena around North Point is expected to be ready for potential play for the 2027-28 season, and now it’s just a waiting game.

Personally, I would love to dust off the old Atlanta Thrashers sweater, and head back to “Blueland”!


Cold Cats

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Florida Panthers dismissed the Carolina Hurricanes in dramatic fashion taking Game 4 at home 4-3 to complete their sweep of the Eastern Conference final.

There is forbidden sports magic happening in South Florida. Look at the Panthers’ heart pounding win via Matthew Tkachuk with 4.9 seconds left in the game. That’s Electric stuff.

The Panthers (No. 8 seed/East) have bulldozed their way to the Stanley Cup Finals coming off a stunning sweep. This is champion-level momentum.

After going down 3-1 in the opening-round with the best regular-season team in the NHL,  they’ve won 11 of their last 12 playoff games, and they literally made the playoffs by a point.

The primary voodoo wielder is Tkachuk, who channels the hockey royalty in his veins by scoring the most impactful goals. Looking at Tkachuk’s history, he’s ended multiple games in overtime this postseason. “Insane” feels like a light word for the feat.

The Panthers aren’t lacking in high-end skill; they were the fifth-highest-scoring team in the league this season. But with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, it wasn’t Aleksander Barkovor Tkachuk or Carter Verhaeghe who scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, it was Florida’s fourth line that came up with it — in gorgeous fashion, no less.

Ryan Lomberg pounced on a Jesperi Kotaniemi turnover just inside the blue line, and triggered a beautiful passing play — Lomberg with a saucer pass to Eric Staal, who wheeled and passed to Colin White, who probably should have shot but instead sent the extra pass across the goalmouth to Lomberg for the back-door tap-in. Looked like a play they ran a million times, on the biggest stage of the postseason thus far.

Anything short of perfection would have seemed like a letdown with the way Sergei Bobrovsky was playing through the first three games — 132 saves on 135 shots, but Bobrovsky looked decidedly human in this matchup.

There were a few more glove bobbles, a lot more rebounds and three goals against. First, Bobrovsky lost sight of a shot off the post, and Paul Stastny  cleaned it up. Then, Teravainen took advantage of a broken Colin White stick and beat Bobrovsky from the low slot.

There were a few more hairy moments, but Bobrovsky locked it down in the third period and finished with 36 saves. He ends the series with a .965 save percentage, giving up a total of six goals in four games.

Looking ahead, The Panthers expect to face Vegas or Dallas in the Final.

Based on premature betting odds already out, Florida would be a small underdog to Vegas but a slight favorite vs. Dallas,  not that underdog status has meant anything to the Panthers this postseason.

It had been 26 years, 11 months and 24 days since Florida last scored a victory that clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on June 1, 1996 (but who’s counting?).

This time, Cats fans got to enjoy it.