Don’t faint: Thrashers are off to a fine start

Craig Ramsay pulled his players together after goalie Ondrej Pavelec collapsed in the opener and they've followed him since. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay pulled his players together after goalie Ondrej Pavelec collapsed in the season opener and they've followed him ever since. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

After an offseason that saw the hiring of a new general manager and a new coach, a churning of half the roster and the adoption of an ownership budget that screams, “Will kill penalties for food,” the Thrashers opened their 11th season in unique fashion: Their goalie fainted two and a half minutes into the season.

Craig Ramsay thought he had prepared for every conceivable scenario in his debut as coach. That one he never addressed.

“Forty years in this business, I ain’t never seen that,” he said. “It wasn’t on my list.”

We should note that it’s not that unusual for a Thrashers’ goalie to pass out. It just doesn’t usually happen until at least December. But this time the Thrashers strayed from the norm. They didn’t follow with their own collapse.

It’s only five games into the NHL season, well short of a scientific sampling. But the Thrashers are becoming an interesting little story.

That game when goalie Ondrej Pavelec collapsed? Ramsay rallied the team and the Thrashers won 4-2 over Washington, one of the league’s top teams. Playing with No. 2 goalie Chris Mason, they have won three of their first five games (four coming on the road). Their last two wins came at Anaheim and San Jose (where they had never won before).

Ron Hainsey and the Thrashers stunned the San Jose Sharks, 4-2, after trailing 2-0.

Ron Hainsey and Thrashers stunned San Jose 4-2 after trailing 2-0.

They’ve had eight different goal scorers. Their leading goal scorer is a guy named Anthony Stewart. It took him 105 games to score his first four NHL goals. It took him five games this year to score his next four.

Ramsay’s philosophy is simple: Get the puck out of your own end quickly and then attack — with all five skaters. It’s like the Detroit Red Wings, only without the Detroit Red Wings.

The strategy has its occasional perils, but also an obvious upside. The Thrashers have trailed in all five games but rallied from two goals down in the last two to win.

“The way we’re playing now is the way we’re going to play all season,” Ramsay said. “Hopefully we won’t fall behind all the time. But when the puck drops, I want everybody going forward, five guys attacking. Everybody is required to participate offensively.”

He sounds like a little league coach. Everybody plays. Have fun. Don’t worry about mistakes. Later, we’ll do pizza.

Is there a hockey version of running a down-and-out to the Chevy and drawing up plays in the dirt? Because that’s almost what Ramsay is like.

“One thing I hate about kids sports is coaches decide at eight years old whether somebody can play or not,” he said. “I wasn’t that kid. I didn’t play on a team until I was 10. [General manager] Rick Dudley wasn’t that player, and he had a very good NHL career. I was known as a checker but I scored 20 goals a year. If you dress here, you’re going to play and you’re going to try to score. It’s not about accepting a role.”

Yes, there is a structure. Players talk about how detail oriented Ramsay can be in certain systems. There’s a lot of teaching and video study. But the overall philosophy is simple: You go that way.

Veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey came here as a free agent in 2008. He said this is the best the team has played five-on-five since his arrival. “We’re spending a lot less time in our end, and that means there’s less of a chance for something to go wrong,” he said.

And then this: “The week was much improved after the first two and a half minutes.”

Forward Rich Peverley said, “We’re going to be a hard team to play against. That’s going to be our identity.”

That would be a new one.

In a short amount of time — NHL training camps have shrunk to three weeks — Ramsay has managed to get a lot of new players to believe in his system and follow him.  He’ll need that all season because there’s little margin for error. The Thrashers’ payroll, courtesy of your nickel-squeezing Atlanta Spirit, is second-lowest in the league at $42.5 million  — nearly $16.9 million under the cap.

Ramsay isn’t concerned. He believed the Thrashers could make the playoffs “before even I knew who the players were.” It helps to be confident. So far so good. And nobody has fainted in several days.

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83 comments Add your comment

5150 P.O.A.D.

October 19th, 2010
1:21 pm

Don’t even start with the Hawks or the Thrashers. You will get few hits than a Tyson fight.

Last

October 19th, 2010
1:26 pm

The Thrashers are going to be fun to watch this year. Hopefully Bergfors will get his head into the game, get on the ice and score some goals, because this team lacks real scoring talent. I like what the new coach is doing.

sidslid

October 19th, 2010
1:30 pm

Rank local teams (previous rank)

Falcons (1) Let’s just call it an off day and let’s hope Robinson not suspended.

Thrashers (4) That was an impressive road trip

Braves (2) Hard to drop them a spot with Troy Glaus soon to be off the roster.

UGA Basketball (5) Catch the fever!

GT Football (4) Catching Clemson at the wrong time. Will lose by at least seven

UGA Football (8) Afraid those first five minutes of Vandy show they still don’t have it. 3-5 after this week

GT Basketball (6) Hewitt’s last year. PJ making the athletic assoc enough money to buy him out.

Hawks (7) Said I had a bad feeling. Could they go as low as seventh in the East?

ChippersLoveChild

October 19th, 2010
1:32 pm

Now come out and support the team. Nice to see a positive article about the Thrasher from someone other than Viv or Rawhide…. can’t wait for all the people wanting to talk Georgia football to bash it… happens every time, yet posters think they are so clever for bringing it up.

PMC

October 19th, 2010
1:34 pm

Amazing the difference a new GM and coach make.

Telfo

October 19th, 2010
1:36 pm

I am very encouraged by the start. With all the new players and new coaches i was expecting a very slow start. Things should only get better from here.

JLC

October 19th, 2010
1:40 pm

Hockey is so brutally awful!!!!! The Thrashers can move any day now.

Rusty the barbarian

October 19th, 2010
1:42 pm

The Islanders and Maple Leafs are off to good starts too, and they haven’t been good the last few seasons. It’s still early. Don’t give the Trashers the Cup just yet.

UGABugKiller

October 19th, 2010
1:45 pm

How in the name of all that is holy have NO Atlanta businessmen stepped up to purchase the Thrashers and Hawks from these horrible owners?

Seriously. Atlanta has a ton of Fortune 500 companies. You saying there isn’t ONE guy in Atlanta with 75 million sitting around to buy just the Thrashers???

Owning these teams is a civic duty. The disSpirit FAIL in every aspect of ownership. They are, in essence, terrible citizens of this city and state.

Seriously, I cannot believe Artie Blank hasn’t swooped in to purchase these two teams on the cheap and provide the stabilization needed to provide winners on the ice and court.

Just a damn, damn shame.

WHY TED??? WHY DID YOU ALLOW YOUR SPORTS TEAMS TO PASS TO AOL??? IT WASN’T NECESSARY TO COMPLETE THE DEAL!

WHY???!!!

Joe Friday

October 19th, 2010
1:46 pm

I still don’t have a feel for this team’s ability to win over the course of this season. They were playing just awful in Anaheim and got some good breaks and pulled out a win. They were outshot badly in San Jose and also pulled out a win.

I do like the style of play, however, and will take hard work and tough skating over the figure 8 Kovy and Max show we’ve been subjected to. Just win, baby.

Thomas Magnum

October 19th, 2010
1:58 pm

Thanks for the positive article on the team Jeff. I knew you had it in you!

Hankie Aron

October 19th, 2010
2:12 pm

Jeff- i dont’ even like hockey but that was a great and entertaining column. Thanks

Hankie Aron

October 19th, 2010
2:22 pm

Schultzie- You alive, anyone out there, are the Thrashers that irrelevant?

Hankie Aron

October 19th, 2010
2:24 pm

I guess so, Sad.

Rich T

October 19th, 2010
2:41 pm

Seen this movie many times … fast start through the New Year before either a gradual crawl or rapid descent back into oblivion. I want to believe, but won’t take them seriously until 2011 rolls around.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
2:42 pm

POAD — I will not be a slave to pageviews. There are hockey fans and the Thrashers are worthy of a column. There. I said it.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
2:44 pm

Sidslid — What’s the ranking based on — how good you think the team is/will be? Can’t imagine Robinson is going to be suspended.

LAC

October 19th, 2010
2:49 pm

There are PLENTY of Good Hockey Fans in Atlanta, look at the first couple years attendence…

But, Like Jeff has pointed out many many times… These owners still have diapers on and have NO
idea what they are doing or even less when any one of them runs their Stupid mouth !

We want a winner and commitment is what we need from an OWNER, not these IDIOTS !

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
2:53 pm

UGABugKiller– I don’t think you’re going to see anybody buy (or invest in) the team until after the situation with Steve Belkin is resolved — and who knows when that will be. I heard that a court date was just pushed back again until February.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
2:53 pm

Thomas — thanks. I just write what I see.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
2:54 pm

Thanks Hankie.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
2:54 pm

Rich T – You’re gunshyness (is that a word?) is understood.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
2:56 pm

LAC — You hit it on the head. There’s a sufficient hard core of hockey fans in Atlanta but mismanagement and poor seasons has both hurt that core and prevented the sport from growing. It’s unfortunate.

sidslid

October 19th, 2010
2:58 pm

Rankings are a bit of a trend line with some credit for where the teams are now versus peers. Probably better if I did a hot/cold note. For example, I still expect the Falcons to have a better standing in the NFL than the other teams around town.

A27

October 19th, 2010
2:59 pm

Rock on Trashers!!! Silance the naysayers.

ATL Sports Fan

October 19th, 2010
3:11 pm

Looking forward the the game against the Sabres tomorrow night! Let’s hope we can shout out the “Let’s Go Buff-A-Lo” chants!

Tucker T

October 19th, 2010
3:11 pm

Not a hockey fan but I enjoyed your story/blog/column…whatever you call it.

Brett

October 19th, 2010
3:14 pm

nickel-squeezing? too expensive- I’d say penny-pinching.

scottc

October 19th, 2010
3:27 pm

If they have a winning record after 25 games, I will be shocked . . . but I would LOVE to be shocked.

Matt

October 19th, 2010
3:39 pm

Val-little hostile today?

Jeff-thanks for the column. Unfortunately due to the Center Ice/Fox/SportSouth squabble not many of us have had a chance to see the team play on TV and the local broadcasts have been pitiful to start the season.
Frankly the ASG could write a book on “How to Alienate fans and Not Influence People” given their penny pinching payroll, the lack of TV coverage to start the year, the terrible signal for the radio broadcasts, and the endless ownership squabble. It really says something that so many Thrasher fans remain DESPITE all of that junk.

Andy

October 19th, 2010
3:40 pm

Jeff,

What do you think about the Thrashers potentially signing Melky Cabrera as a backup goalie until Pavelec comes back? That wide frame could really come in handy, and he wouldn’t have to swing anything.

Jeff97

October 19th, 2010
3:40 pm

Unfortunately, its going to take this team having a really good year, making the playoffs and making noise in the playoffs before we really get good fan support. But if we can sustain it year after year, the fans will support this franchise, there are plenty of hockey lovers down here from all parts of the country.
Cant wait for the game on Wed…gotta keep rockin’ and rollin’

Andy

October 19th, 2010
3:41 pm

By the way, Valerie doesn’t like you very much.

Darkhorse

October 19th, 2010
3:45 pm

An eyebrow raised out of positive curiosity through the first five games. I will be watching(or not w/Fox Sports dispute affecting even Directv customers).

Wow, that payroll is pathetic. The worst owners in sports keep raising the bar. Guess they had to save some $$ to pay overated Joe Johnson and his going absolutely nowhere Hawks.

Cornbread

October 19th, 2010
4:15 pm

Believe it or not, they actually played very well in 5 of their 6 preseason losses. This is a very good and very different Atlanta Thrashers hockey team. The telling comments come from all the opposing team announcers I’ve heard who continually praise the team’s changes and their new style of play.

scottc

October 19th, 2010
4:16 pm

I like the Melky for Goalie idea. He probably won’t faint, and if his arm strength is any indication, he could toss any offending center out of the crease with great ease and rapidity.

scottc

October 19th, 2010
4:17 pm

BTW . . . does Valerie have bad PMS?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by cassandra walker, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Don’t faint: Thrashers are off to a fine start http://bit.ly/b4uRtS [...]

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
4:31 pm

Thanks Tucker.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
4:31 pm

Brett — Point taken.

DCBrave33

October 19th, 2010
4:32 pm

It has been great to see the Thrashers start well. In a weird way, being in DC makes it easier to follow the Thrash. All of the games are available on Center Ice (it’s out of market, so no black outs ever!), and with the Capitals in DC, you get 3 road games a year and a city that now has lots of hockey energy. Seriously, they rival the redskins (not quite to their level yet) in DC.

Go Thrashers!

And your right Jeff, you have never been unfair to hockey, or the hockey fans in Atlanta. You dont show disdain for the sport, or the teams fan, just point out blatant flaws in the current ownership that has not just been a personal annoyance to you, but has prevented the team from competing. When Waddell said “we wont be talking about this by Christmas” about Kovalchuk last year, you were skeptical. When Christmas arrived and we were STILL talking about it, what are you supposed to do, act like he never said that? C’mon people! Good article, and hopefully they give you more to write about in the future.

It would truly be exciting if ALL 4 teams in Atlanta could make the playoffs in the same year for the first time ever!

wxwax

October 19th, 2010
4:32 pm

Good column, thanks I appreciate the insight.

Makes me want to see the Thrashers this season, although for most games the ticket prices are a killer.

ps Wish you thought the same about page views when it comes to covering soccer. :-)

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
4:33 pm

Matt — Thanks. And we won’t be seeing any more comments posted from Valerie.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
4:34 pm

Andy — Never thought of that. Melky could cover post-to-post pretty well, and we’ve all seen how well he flops.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
4:36 pm

DCBrave33 — I appreciate the comments and the perspective. Too often, some view criticism of a team or an organization as being anti-hockey. If I was anti-hockey, I wouldn’t write about it at all.

Jeff Schultz

October 19th, 2010
4:36 pm

Thanks, wxwax

DCBrave33

October 19th, 2010
4:40 pm

Good point. Obviously I know there are plenty of regular season games, but do you know if there will be any chances for a live blog from one of their games some time this season? I know Viv does some of that, but I always find your’s and Mr. Bradley’s game blogs of the Braves, Falcons, Dawgs etc. to be fun. Hopefully they play well enough to warrant that at some point.

scottbravesfan

October 19th, 2010
4:44 pm

Good column Jeff. Glad someone is talking about the Thrashers. But their TV schedule has been brutal this year. Show the first two games and then go black for the entire west coast trip? Seriously? Way to get people pumped up for some Thrashers hockey Atlanta spirit and Fox Sports! Especially this year when UGA and Tech are awful, the Braves are eliminated from the playoffs and the Falcons only play once a week. Thrashers fast start could swoop in and get some viewers and fans in their building but the owners will screw it up as usual.

Darkhorse

October 19th, 2010
4:51 pm

This one time, I don’t think the owners have anything to the tv blackouts. It goes way above their little shop of horrors offices.

Darkhorse

October 19th, 2010
4:52 pm

…….to do with the Fox blackouts.