Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Pro Hockey Find A Place in Atlanta Sun? despite a Checkered History Here, the NHL Hopes That the New South Will Provide a Warmer Reception

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Pro Hockey Find A Place in Atlanta Sun? despite a Checkered History Here, the NHL Hopes That the New South Will Provide a Warmer Reception

Article excerpt

Justin Brossman is a typical Atlanta third-grader with tousled brown hair and freckles.

Typical, except that he has a near-regulation- sized roller-hockey rink in his basement and has already worn out four pairs of skates in his short life.

Few youths here can match his devotion, but Justin's enthusiasm is a growing phenomenon in the Southeast and a demographic that makes the National Hockey League eager to expand into the region. Despite hockey's troubled past in Atlanta, the NHL is encouraged by a growing national television audience - witness the stellar ratings of the Stanley Cup series won by the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Later this month, the 26-team league plans to announce four new franchises, including Atlanta and Nashville. In addition, Raleigh, N.C., has lured the Hartford Whalers south this year. Now reincarnated as the Carolina Hurricanes, they will begin play next season. Add to that the Dallas Stars, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Florida Panthers in Miami, and it's clear that hockey in the South is rising again. "The NHL is interested in expanding in the South because there aren't teams there already," says Bernadette Mansur, an NHL spokeswoman. "Take Atlanta, it's is a wonderful sports town and we'd like to be there." But in a region where almost no one was raised with an ash stick in hand, where college basketball reigns supreme and college football games are all-day family events, will spectators embrace a cold-weather sport that mostly displays the skills of Canadian or European stars? If hockey succeeds here, some say, it would become as much a symbol of the changing South as the recent influx of foreign cars and high-tech industries. But many harbor doubts. "Hockey just doesn't interest me," says Arthur Jones, an Atlantan sporting a Cleveland Indians jersey. "I wasn't raised up on hockey, I was raised up on basketball, football, even baseball. But where I grew up, nobody was like, 'Let's go play some hockey.' " Even fans of media-magnate Ted Turner's bid for an Atlanta hockey team are unsure of the support hockey will get in Georgia Tech and Atlanta Braves country. "An awful lot of people didn't go to the Knights games," says Angela Ryer, referring to Atlanta's minor-league team that lasted only three seasons. History is certainly not on hockey's side. In 1980, the city's first NHL team, the Flames, headed north when the owner couldn't turn a profit or sell the team locally. …

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