Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The Columbus Blue Jackets from A to Z

Puck Daddy
Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The Columbus Blue Jackets from A to Z
Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The Columbus Blue Jackets from A to Z

(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)

By: Alison Lukan, writer for Buckeye State Hockey and the Columbus Blue Jackets

A. Arena District

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When the Blue Jackets came to Columbus, they didn’t just bring a hockey team, they brought the brand new Nationwide Arena and a beautiful and walkable entertainment district that offers restaurants, hotels, public event spaces, entertainment venues, and residential and commercial outlets.

For the hockey fan, the crown jewel is none other than Columbus’ own hockey bar: “RBar.” Stocked floor to ceiling with NHL and CBJ memorabilia (and opposing team logos in the urinals), you can count on RBar to be showing hockey from any and all levels or leagues.

B. Boomer

The Blue Jackets mascot is a delightful green bug named Stinger, and Stinger has long had his beloved companion “SWAT team” (a uniformed psuedo-officer) at his side, but he longed for more. He yearned for a true mascot companion and so, in 2010, when the Blue Jackets released their cannon-themed third jerseys, they also introduced their cannon-themed mascot, “Boomer.”  For what it’s worth, being at the unveiling that November night, the kids in attendance loved him, and I thought Boomer was a hit.

Apparently I was alone.

Many quickly realized Boomer bore a resemblance to … something else, and he suffered many an anatomical joke before being retired just three days after his debut. Today, Boomer’s whereabouts are unknown.

Perhaps he lives in the bowels of Nationwide Arena, perhaps he has retired to a grand Civil War field in rural Ohio, but he is not gone. Know that. He still pops up for very very special occasions.

C. Cannon

The Blue Jackets have a cannon. It is loud and it fires to start every game, celebrate every goal and every win.

Not a Blue Jackets fan? You hate the cannon.

And Blue Jackets fans love that you hate it. It’s a hand-crafted replica 1857 Napoleon field cannon and it will make you jump, just like Johnny Gaudreau at his first All-Star game:

D. Doug MacLean

Doug MacLean was the president and general manager of the Blue Jackets from 1998-2007 and head coach from 2003-04. Some would argue his decisions and lack of planning were the biggest deterrent in the franchise’s development to date.

Some “highlights” include: Ray Whitney scored 137 points in 148 games but the team and player couldn’t agree on a contract extension, so he walked. While never confirmed, it is rumored that the Blue Jackets scouting team chose to draft Anze Kopitar in the 2005 draft, but MacLean changed his mind late in the process and selected Gilbert Brule. And, MacLean admitted to hiring an investigator to follow Nikolai Zherdev.

When MacLean was fired, the Jackets were the only team to have not made the postseason. Perhaps the most positive legacy MacLean leaves is that he opened up the scouting process to Gare Joyce for the book “Future Greats and Heartbreaks” that took place leading up to the 2006 draft.  

Don’t be surprised if you’re with a Blue Jackets fan and Dougie Mac comes on your television and they change the channel. Or leave the room. Or yell obscenities.

E. Expansion Team

Breaking: the Blue Jackets are one of the two youngest teams in the NHL. The franchise was awarded to Columbus on June 25, 1997, and played its first game in Nationwide Arena on Oct. 7, 2000. The Jackets do not have Original Six lore nor decades of history. Columbus fans are aware of this and don’t need reminding.

What fans are counting on is a locker room full of exciting talent that become the legends of the franchise years from now. Jackets fans are an optimistic, tempered bunch - they’ve had just 15 years to try to find a balance between success and failure and to find the tradition that speaks to their character.

And while located in Ohio, please don’t say Jackets fans “don’t know hockey” - over 3,000 adults locally currently play in 174 rec league teams and, with proximity to Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Detroit there are many lifetime hockey fans who finally have a local team to call their own. There’s many a season ticket holder still around who can say they’ve had their tickets “since day one of the franchise.” It’s an exciting time to watch hockey ingrain itself in central Ohio. (/please like this team) 

F. Follow CBJ Twitter

Back in 2009, there were a handful of Blue Jackets fans on Twitter who would fight for a signal inside Nationwide Arena to connect with the official team account for updates and news. My, how times have changed. The arena now has free wifi connectivity throughout, all the better to keep up with the shenanigans of what is arguably the best social media account in the NHL.

They’ve become besties with the LA Kings, they have a reputation for zinging teams and opposing teams’ fans (lovingly), and put out the chirp heard round the hockey world:

Even if you don’t like the Blue Jackets, their social media team promises to entertain. Daily.

G. Gardiner, Bruce

On Oct. 7, 2000, Bruce Gardiner scored the first goal in franchise history in a game that the Jackets would lose to the Chicago Blackhawks by a 5-3 final. Gardiner went on to score seven goals and add 15 assists in his only season for the Blue Jackets and finished his NHL career with 34 goals in 312 NHL games. The more you know.

(For the record, Martin Spanhel scored the first-first-ever Blue Jackets goal in an exhibition game.)

H. Hugs

Oh sure, teams have their fan salutes. One might argue they are so significant they are trackable [see: any game from hockeystats.ca], but only one team in the entire NHL has a post-win hug.

In 2013, with Nick Foligno and Sergei Bobrovsky both marking their first season in union blue, the team went on a crazy run down the stretch and a tradition was born. Foligno saved his best hug every night for last for his goaltender simply because he thought his name sounded fun. Now it’s a hallmark of every win, heck, there is a two-part montage of all the hugs to be found!

Fans raged if local coverage cut away without showing the hug until it became mandatory. Cheers of “Bobrovsky!” ring out when the hug happens post-game, and torrents of “#morehugs” hit Twitter after any win. It’s a thing.

And really, is there anything more wonderful than a Vezina winning goaltender standing with arms outstretched waiting for a hug from his (now) captain? I think not.

I. Indescribable Tragedy

There are perhaps no heavier nets in NHL games than those that hang in Nationwide Arena.

On Mar. 16, 2002, then 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil, an avid sports fan from Dayton, was watching the Jackets play Calgary when an Espen Knutsen shot was deflected by the Flames’ Derek Morris up into the stands, striking Brittanie in the head. Just two days later, at the local children’s hospital, the young cheerleader was dead.

The ripples of grief were immeasurable. Knutsen became the subject of an aggressive Sports Illustrated cover story and lost his passion for playing the game, and the league has since implemented protective nets behind every goal in the NHL.

J. John Davidson & Jarmo Kekalainen

“Brick by Brick.” It’s a Blue Jackets mantra introduced by president of hockey operations John Davidson on Oct 24, 2012 when he joined the organization. It spoke to the approach JD had designed for making the Jackets a perennial winner. The bricks Davidson had in mind started to fall into place with the hiring of Jarmo Kekalainen as general manager on Feb 13, 2013, making him the first European GM in the league.  

The duo, along with their front office and scouting teams, have brought instant credibility to the organization, and have built a formidable foundation of “bricks,” solidifying a core that includes Bobrovsky, Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, and Cam Atkinson.

K. Kevin, Dancing

One should never really quantify fandom, but when it comes to dedication, would you paint your upper body in team-based slogans on a regular basis and dance in front of a packed NHL arena night after night?

Wait. Don’t answer that.

Anyway, Columbus’ Kevin Schroeder certainly does all of these things going all the way back to 2002. Wanting to impress a girlfriend, Schroeder, who lived in Colorado, danced and got on the arena video board. He officially began painting himself with Blue Jackets slogans in 2004 and a legend called “Dancing Kevin” was born.

Until 2014, Schroeder still flew in from Colorado to dance for the Jackets’ faithful. He has since moved back to central Ohio and has gifted the Nationwide Arena crowds with his topical belly messages and special kind of dancing that can only be described as...well, it can’t. Just watch:

L. Leo!

Don’t like the cannon blasts? That’s ok. There’s another auditory delight waiting for you at Nationwide Arena. Before every home game, (barring the rare schedule conflict) you will hear ”The Star-Spangled Banner” - and “O Canada” on select nights - coming from the professionally trained voice of Mr. Leo Welsh. But it’s not just about his voice (which is oh so good).

Leo is a fan of the team, attending every game wearing a custom jersey, and he is greeted on the ice by a throaty “LEO!” before he can even sing a note. Fun fact: Leo is such a good guy that when the cheer began years ago, he tried to stop it - wanting the attention on the team and not himself - but it became a tradition nonetheless.

M. Mason, Steve

Drafted in 2006, Mason would join the Jackets in net in 2008 and immediately become a team darling. He helped lead the Jackets to their first playoff showing, winning 33 games and (beat Bobby Ryan for) the Calder Memorial Trophy with a 2.29 GAA and 10 shutouts in his rookie campaign.

But every season after that was a struggle for Mason in Columbus. When he was unable to return to form, the fan backlash was palpable. Booed on the ice, ruthlessly heckled during a poorly timed decision to join Twitter (the original account was promptly deleted), Mason sank into what he called “dark places.”

On May 15, 2013, Mason was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for goaltender Michael Leighton and a 2015 third-round pick. Mason experienced a resurgence in Philadelphia and signed a three-year extension in January 2014.

He played his first game back on Blue Jackets’ ice Dec. 9, 2014 - a Jackets fan will point out that it’s the only one of four possible opportunities to do so - and lost in overtime to his former team, but that is likely a blip to a ‘tender who has put up save percentages of .944, .917, and .928 since finding his way with the Flyers.

N. Nash, Rick

Rick Nash was drafted No. 1 overall by the Blue Jackets in 2002. In the nine seasons that Nash was a Blue Jacket he played in 674 games and scored 289 goals and 547 points – both all-time franchise bests. Big No. 61 wore the captain’s “C,” had five hat tricks, and led the team to its first playoff berth with a career-best 79 points. He also won the Rocket Richard trophy in 2003-04 and gave ceaselessly to Columbus, a city in which he still has a home after being traded to New York in 2012.

But about that.

After the failed Jeff Carter experiment, and with the Jackets sitting in the NHL standings basement, Nash asked for a trade “to better the franchise.” Thus began a six-month debate that raged on social media, in the corridors of Nationwide Arena and in new and mainstream media. By the time Nash was traded to the Rangers in exchange for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick (which would become Kerby Rychel), the trade ultimately did make the Jackets better, but it left much of the fan base wounded when it came to the former face of the franchise.

The Jackets would choose to go captainless for the following three seasons and Nash would, for some, complete the heel turn when he finally returned to Nationwide Arena and got in a kerfuffle with Sergei Bobrovsky only to receive retaliation from Matt Calvert.

The one-time most treasured Jacket is now, seemingly, one of the most notorious players in the league for Jackets fans.

O. Overtime Goals

The Blue Jackets had to wait 13 years for their first playoff win, so what’s a couple more periods?

70 seconds into the second overtime of Game 2 versus Pittsburgh in 2014 the fiery Matt Calvert took a shot from Marc-Andre Fleury’s right side, then collected his own rebound and potted the Jackets’ fourth goal of the night for the first playoff win in franchise history.

And if that wasn’t enough, after losing Game 3, a standing room only crowd in Columbus watched Brandon Dubinsky score a tying goal with just 23.2 seconds left in regulation that would...you guessed it...force another overtime, allowing Nick Foligno to fire in the game winning goal from somewhere near the Indiana border securing the Jackets’ first-ever playoff win on home ice.

P. Prospal Pointing at Things

The Detroit Red Wings had been the bane of the Blue Jackets’ existence for many a season. The rivalry mirrored the longstanding local college football hatefest that is Ohio State-Michigan, and it was Detroit by which the Jackets continued to measure themselves, particularly after being swept by the Red Wings in the franchise’s first-ever playoff series in 2009.

Enter Vinny Prospal.

It was March 2013, the Jackets were in the process of cementing their first season-series victory over the Red Wings, and Sergei Bobrovsky was rounding third on his first career shutout. After being pulled out of a scrum with Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader, Prospal emphatically pointed toward the scoreboard. Prospal was ejected, but the act became not only a wildly-popular internet meme, it became the definitive signal to fans of a new day and a new swagger in Columbus.

Q. Quality Ownership

It was 1996 and Columbus business mogul John H. McConnell promised Gary Bettman that an arena would be built in Columbus to house the NHL franchise McConnell and his fellow investors in “Columbus Hockey Limited” so desperately wanted.

McConnell shepherded the franchise to fruition, and established the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation in March 2000 focused on helping Columbus area children live better, healthier lives. For McConnell, being a Blue Jacket meant more than just playing hockey, it meant giving back  - a tradition that has now reached record proportions.

Beloved “Mr. Mac” would pass before the Jackets ever made the playoffs, but his son, John P. McConnell, has taken over and continues the family commitment to the team’s future. If you see a “JHM” logo or hear a whispered “Thank you, Mr. Mac” in Blue Jackets circles, it’s the genuine appreciation for everything the family has done and continues to do for hockey and the city of Columbus.

R. Rostislav “Rusty” Klesla

“The Original Jacket.”

Klesla wasn’t the first to officially be signed as a Blue Jacket, but he was the first player to ever be drafted as one on June 24, 2000. Klesla was beloved by Jackets fans throughout his career. The big Czech defenseman played 515 games for the Blue Jackets, third only to Rick Nash and David Vyborny, and was the longest lasting member of the Jackets’ inaugural team. He ended every interview with rinkside reporter Jim Day by thanking him by his first and last name.

And when the defenseman was traded to Arizona Phoenix (along with Dane Byers for Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto), many fans cried. Real tears.

S. Shelley, Jody

Jody Shelley played for the Blue Jackets from 2000 until the 2007-08 season when he was traded to the San Jose Sharks, and has become one of the most revered Jackets of all time. Known for his hard-nosed style, Shelley averaged over 200 PIM per season and yet still holds the team record for most consecutive games with an even or plus rating (27).

After retiring from professional hockey in 2013 (while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers), Shelley returned to Columbus and joined the Blue Jackets as a team ambassador and contributor to home game telecasts. His natural ability coupled with “inside the room” hockey commentary has only further endeared him to Jackets faithful, and he became a full-time analyst for Blue Jackets’ telecasts alongside play-by-play announcer, Jeff Rimer. Shelley has been the driving force behind the Blue Jackets alumni group, which held its first event in November.

And honestly, if you have your own t-shirt, you’ve officially made it.

Homage.com
Homage.com

T. Two Thousand Nine

It was a great day on Apr. 8, 2009, when the Blue Jackets, led by then-coach Ken Hitchcock, secured their first playoff berth after beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in a shootout at the United Center.

The Columbus boys would draw one of their big rivals, the aforementioned Red Wings, in the opening round and were eliminated in four straight games. But many will still point to games in that series as some of the loudest, most exciting sporting events they’ve ever attended. The proverbial “breaking of the postseason seal” was cause for celebration and the promise of things to come, though they came to fruition five years later.

Today, only two players remain on the Jackets roster who have seen both playoff series: Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin.

U. Unique Fan Groups

Many teams have their own official booster club, but few have capitalized on cementing the fan identity like the Blue Jackets. The team’s official fan group, the Jacket Backers, routinely organizes road trips to NHL arenas all over North America as well as community events on a year-round basis. In 2014, as the Jackets took on the challenge of an incredible late season playoff push, the fans createdThe Fifth Line” that has since become a rallying cry for fans, a technical liability for sound crews, a website, and even a line of apparel.

V. Vezina

2012: Sergei Bobrovsky is traded from the Flyers to the Blue Jackets. 51 weeks later, “Bob” wins the Vezina Trophy given to the best goaltender in the NHL during the 2013 (lockout-shortened) season.

It wasn’t really a close race. Bob had 110 points and 17 first-place votes in the final voting. Henrik Lundqvist was second...with 55 points and three first-place votes. But Bob wasn’t just the first Russian to earn this important piece of NHL hardware; in the process, he cemented himself as a fan favorite and the linchpin of John Davidson’s “build from the goal out” philosophy.  Bobrovsky agreed to a two-year contract with the club July 1, 2013, and has since signed on for a four-year extension that runs through the 2018-19 season.

“In Bob We Trust” isn’t just a slogan...it’s a philosophy.

W. Who?

No, you cheeky monkeys, this is NOT what people say when they hear “Blue Jackets.” Quite the contrary.

In 2010, a group of bloggers decided to create a summer get-together  to keep the Blue Jackets fan discussion going and it quickly became an event called Cannonfest where hundreds of fans showed up year after year.

The highlight? The marquee video work of Tom Larrow. As Tom’s family grew, his time for video production became less and less, culminating in his final gift to the Jackets’ fan community: “Who.” There are no greater time capsules of the Jackets fan experience than Tom’s videos year after year after year.

X. X-Jackets, not remembered fondly

Want to get a Blue Jackets fan riled up? It will take two words: Adam Foote. 

Signed in 2005 by MacLean, Foote was promptly given the ‘A’ and then became the fourth Jackets’ captain in history when Luke Richardson stepped down. 

Fans loved him, the team wanted to re-sign him, but on trade deadline day, 2008, Foote was traded back to the Avalanche and he hightailed it out of Columbus so fast - he had a private plane waiting - that he played in a game against Calgary the night of the transaction. There were quotes Foote “never should have left Colorado”, rumors his Columbus house was on the market prior to the trade, and the player was viewed as abandoning a team that was five points out of a playoff spot. To call him persona non grata in central Ohio is...kind.

Now, about Jeff Carter…

[redacted for length, and copious amounts of agita]

Y. Youth Hockey

John H. McConnell didn’t just want to bring the Blue Jackets to Columbus, he wanted to bring HOCKEY. We’ll call the approach “hockey fans aren’t born, they’re made.”

CBJ Youth Hockey
CBJ Youth Hockey

First came the rinks. Five rinks (one seasonal) with eight sheets of ice are available at OhioHealth Chillers. Jackets players, staffers and the Foundation have brought almost endless opportunities to play hockey to central Ohio youth. This summer, 270 kids are enrolled in hockey camp; almost 700 players will join local high-school teams; 164 kids will play in the AAA Blue Jackets program this year (U18, U16, bantam major/minor, two Pee Wee squads, squirt major, U14 girls), and only eight  are not considered “local”. 170 players have graduated from the U18 team to date.  

NHL prospects Trent Vogelhuber (CBJ), Connor Murphy (ARI), Cole Cassels (VAN), Sean Kuraly (BOS), Jack Roslovic (WPG), and recent CBJ signee Kole Sherwood have all come from central Ohio and played in the AAA Blue Jackets program. A fan base for hockey - and the Blue Jackets – is growing organically right in the franchise’s back yard. Not. Too. Shabby.

Z. Zherdev (and Filatov, and Brule, and Picard…)

Want to know why Blue Jackets fans appear to regularly fear for the worst? They’ve been burned…a lot. Some draft history: Nikolay Zherdev (2003, fourth overall); Gilbert Brule (2005, sixth overall); Alexandre Picard (2004, eighth overall); Nikita Filitov (2008, sixth overall). Even a solid top ten pick like Pascal Leclaire was forced by injuries into early retirement. Ouch.

Heck, that Filatov guy wouldn’t even “do rebounds.”

@APortzline
@APortzline

A pall of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” on any positive news loomed over the Blue Jackets fan base for a long while, but the tide is turning. The last six years of drafts include names like Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray, Alexander Wennberg and Zach Werenski. The cupboard is stocked full of forwards, and Jarmo and company did a good job filling up the defensive coffers this year as well.

Meet the author: Alison covered the Blue Jackets for two years with Fox Sports Ohio and currently writes for Buckeye State Hockey and Bluejackets dot com. She started to like hockey because of her dad’s hockey scars, and now plays...very poorly. She also likes to make puns - they are worse than her ability to play hockey.  Follow her on Twitter @AlisonL.

Previous A to Z Guides: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago | Colorado

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