On Friday night the National Hockey League finished up it’s slate of games and shut down for the Olympics. For the next 15 days the league will be closed while it’s stars are in Sochi competing for medals in the Olympic world hockey tournament. I thought this would be as good a time as any to tell you that I gave hockey a shot a shot and you should too. More specifically, I gave the Columbus Blue Jackets a shot.
My goal tonight is to tell you of my experience and why I think you’ll love the Columbus Blue Jackets if you are willing to give it a shot. And hopefully tonight’s Rumble helps you decide in favor of checking them out when the Olympic break is over.
I’ve always had a mild interest in hockey. The players have always seemed like tough guys, what with the pictures of dudes missing teeth and stitches under an eye. Growing up in Youngstown, and Ohio in general, we had no “home team” to watch in the NHL. I had a few friends who were born into Pittsburgh sports families and they followed the Pittsburgh Penguins, but there was no way I was getting on board with rooting for anything Pittsburgh, no matter how many Stanley Cups they won.
As the years pass by and I get older I’ve started paying attention to the teams that get support from outside Ohio within the state of Ohio. I notice we have a mixed bag when it comes to the few hockey fans there are in the Buckeye state: There’s a spattering of Columbus Blue Jacket paraphernalia, but the majority of the those (relative to the size of the state) few hockey fans are pulling for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers or the New York Rangers.
Growing up in Youngstown, the market is unfortunately controlled by the Pittsburgh Penguins. And I don’t mean that on a “more fans” basis, I mean it in that the NHL has given television and marketing rights to the Penguins for the “Tri-County area” that consists of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. That means watching the Jackets on television in those areas can only happen if you purchase the NHL pay-per-view package. For some reason I don’t think there are many buys for that service to watch the CBJ in the football crazy Mahoning Valley.
It wasn’t until I moved to Columbus this past fall that I realized the rest of the state is under the Jackets television and marketing control. “Wonderful” I thought, except I now live in the city where they are obviously the home team and on TV.When I moved here I really wanted to give this whole hockey thing a try and see if I would enjoy it, especially now that I would have a home team I could actually watch in my home and actually root for since it didn’t reside in the cesspool that is Pennsylvania.
Rules of attraction
What drew me in? We know why I gave it a shot, but what kept me watching considering I could name only one player and barely understood the rules or the game itself?
The first thing I noticed when watching the Jackets is that they are young and they play fast and furious. Seeing guys flying all over the ice and an aggressive style of offense is exactly how it sounds when you watch it. They don’t play offense like a soccer match, a “Tessel-ball on ice” approach that some of their opponents take. They attack like a mid to late 90′s Silver Bullet defense creating turnovers and taking it to the house. So they’re exciting to say the least and the pace dictates it as such.
I haven’t been to a game yet, but the in-arena experience seems electric. I can only begin to imagine how fast the game must look in person. The lights in pregame, the music throughout (a LOT of metal can be heard in the background under the commentators during television broadcasts) and the firing of the cannon.
Yeah, I said firing of a cannon. The Blue Jackets get their name as a tribute to the northern soldiers from the Civil War (take that, SEC!) and more specifically the Columbus areas involvement in helping win the war. When the Jackets score a goal, Brian Johnson of AC/DC can be heard shouting “FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK… FIRE!” which is followed by a shot from a Civil War era cannon positioned in one of the corners of the arena ala the bands live performance of the song “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”. The place gets jumping into party mode when instantly after the cannon shot the music turns to the chorus of Locksley’s “The Whip”.
Click the red words if you want to see the songs I’m talking about. Also, there have been no fatalities, so I’m guessing it doesn’t send actual cannon balls screaming into the crowd.
They’re clearly good but far from great
I think that about sums up where they rank among the other teams in the NHL fairly well: They’re clearly good but far from great. They are currently one point out of the second Wild Card spot for the playoffs. And while we think of a team fighting for the last playoff spot as typically not very good or a “one and done”, take note that this league brings parity like nothing I’ve ever seen. Four points (a win is good for 2 points, points can also be earned for overtime games, shootouts and various other reasons that I still can’t understand) separate the Blue Jackets from being on the outside looking in at the Wild Card to being in second place in their division. It’s that tight of a race and figures to stay that way until the finish.
Naturally one of the biggest attractions to following any sports franchise is, of course, the players. The Jackets comprise a majority young team that remind me of the late 80′s Browns trying to break through onto the main stage.
Since I’m still very new to the game myself, I’ve fought the urge to try and find out who the “marquee” names on the team are by research and rather learn them just by watching. I may be off-base, but several guys have stood out to me as clearly the stars of the team. I may be missing the real stars, but these are the guys I’ve noticed and have become my favorites:
Ryan Johansen is a 21 year old center (think “guy who scores the goals”) that is having what I’m told is his break out season. Johansen and Boone Jenner are leading the charge for the young guys offensively while Ryan Murray leads the new breed on defense.
Brandon Dubinsky also plays center and judging by his television commercials here in Columbus is possibly the “face of the franchise”. He seems more than worthy of the title.
And then there’s Sergei Bobrovsky, simply known around Nationwide Arena as “Bob”. He is a first team all-star and the 2013 winner of the Vezina Trophy (think Cy Young Award more so than league MVP) as the leagues best goalie. Simply put, he’s as good as they come. If you watch the Olympic hockey games, you’ll see Bob tending goal for the Russian team driving the world insane.
I look over the roster and could honestly name just about all of them as guys I enjoy watching. I wanted to share my favorites, but it’s no slight to the rest. And I’ll admit, the other guys (like Artim Anisimov) may be better than any of my favorites. Another example is Marion Gaborik who will be back after the Olympic break ready to go after an injury has held him out.
Just try it
Right now the NHL is shut down for the Olympics. And those games will certainly be exciting and great to watch. So show national pride and support the United States national team. You know, the guys from that movie “Miracle”. You can see four Jackets on the Russian national team: Bobrovsky, Anisimov, Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin. The rest of the team will be at home prepping for the final run to the playoffs.
When the break ends the Jackets will have 24 games remaining and the pressure will be turned up to a whole new level. What has been a fun ride through the first half+ of the season will now get white knuckle tight and intense. It all starts Thursday the 27th in New Jersey against the Devils. That’s Puddy’s team, for you Seinfeld fans.
So bottom line, why should you care or watch? Because this is Ohio’s team. They encompass everything the Ohio sports fan wants: Guts, determination, hard work, not being flashy and letting your play speak for you. They work their tails off. This is also the only team in the state that we all can get behind. From Cincinnati to Cleveland over to Toledo and down to Athens, we all can call the Jackets our home team.
They deserve our support. These guys want to bring a winner to Ohio, they say as much in literally every interview pre or post game that I’ve even seen. The NHL playoffs are exciting. And if the Jackets are a part of it, and I’m betting they will be, it’s going to be a playoff run you want to be a part of.
I used to be a “I just don’t get in to hockey” guy like a lot of you. I’ve been there. And then I gave it a shot… now I have a new sport to follow. Do you remember what it was like when you very first started learning about football or baseball? The wonder of it all as it was everything was so new and exciting. That’s where I’m at with hockey and it has been an absolute blast. Join me and “Join the Battle”.
Finally, I have to give a shout and thanks to my dude Greg (@GregDoubleU) for staying on me about the NHL. Thanks!
Metallica track of the week
Did you see the Grammy’s a few weeks? Probably not. So you likely didn’t see Metallica with world renowned pianist Lang Lang absolutely crash the party and level the place with heavy metal. Going back to the 2014 Grammy’s, with Lang Lang, here is the massive “One”!