December 07, 2010
"They overtook the crowd and that's disappointing when that happens on your home ice. I know the Penguins travel well, they are well supported and they have the best player in the world. I guess because Pittsburgh is so close it's easy for them the get out here."
To get a sense of how Penguins fans took over the Columbus barn on Saturday night, here are the final moments of the game.
Remember: The home team is down by five goals at this point, the end of what should be a painful night:
And here you thought having a phallic mascot was the most embarrassing thing about the Blue Jackets these days ...
The Penguins fans' Columbus Invasion wasn't just a nuisance -- it's actually forced a change in arena policy regarding the perks "enemy" fans receive when purchasing a ticket to the game. Which begs the question: Can a team that's struggling to draw fans really afford such draconian measures?
The Penguins fans helped Columbus to a sellout of 19,143 on Saturday night. But it was an honor given only to a few fans each season that has the Blue Jackets adjusting their policy.
Prior to the Blue Jackets' 7-2 loss, a pair of Penguins fans were escorted around the rink on the ice-resurfacing machines. The symbolism was not lost on Blue Jackets' supporters who appeared outnumbered in a sellout crowd of 19,143 fans.
"To have Penguins fans up there was a mistake," said Larry Hoepfner, the Jackets vice president of business operations. "We are not going to hide from it. It will not happen again."
Zamboni riders are pre-selected by the organization sometimes days or weeks in advance, Hoepfner said. Fans receiving invitations now will be told they cannot wear team apparel of other NHL teams. Hoepfner spent part of Monday, he said, answering angry emails about the Zamboni rides.
We can see the aesthetic argument here. We can understand the ire of Blue Jackets fans.
But a dress code? Seriously?
Our solution: Allow any fan who wins the right to ride the Zamboni to wear whatever they please. And if it happens they choose not to wear anything representing the Blue Jackets, then fans in the 100 Level have the opportunity to throw water balloons at them while the Jackets' mascot fires a water cannon during their 'Boni ride.
Now that's how you change a policy.
The club, which is struggling at the gate, also will explore ways to ensure Jackets' fans get the first chance to buy tickets for popular draws such as the Penguins, Red Wings and Blackhawks. During the 2009 playoffs, for instance, the first day of ticket sales was limited to Ohio residents.
The Blue Jackets have a decision to make here about the direction of their franchise: Are they Ted Leonsis or are they the Florida Panthers?
Leonsis is infamous for trying to keep enemy fans out of his building for Washington Capitals home games, which is something with which we've never agreed. Enemy fans make for a more intense, chaotic atmosphere; if the Penguins/Blue Jackets game had been 3-2 instead of 7-2, we're probably talking about an awesome atmosphere for hockey rather than Zamboni policy today.
But then there are the Florida Panthers who ... well, who are pretty much shameless:
So, Blue Jackets: Can a franchise hurting for attention really afford to be that choosy?