The Streak Ends

Last night the Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0, in Washington, D.C.  Last year, that sad result wouldn’t have been a surprise — after all, the CBJ lost 40 games last season and finished at the bottom of the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.

jacketsYesterday’s game was different, though, because it brought to an end an amazing 16-game winning streak for the Columbus hockey club.  It was the first time the Blue Jackets had lost a game since before Thanksgiving.  During the streak the CBJ rose from near the bottom of their division to first place — which is another landmark for the franchise.  As of today, the CBJ have 58 points after only 37 games; last year the team had a measly 76 points for the entire 82-game season.

For Columbus generally, and Blue Jackets fans specifically, the 16-game streak, and the undefeated December, was pretty cool.  It is the second longest winning streak in NHL history, falling one game short of the all-time record, and it saw the Blue Jackets win against good teams and bad, win on the road and at home, and even beat a team that was on its own 12-game winning streak.  Sellout crowds started to pack Nationwide Arena, and the people of Columbus started talking about the Blue Jackets around town — a lot.  For a franchise that has consistently known failure and disappointment, and that has never won a playoff series, it was heady times.  And the Columbus community appreciated it, because it allowed people to think about something other than Ohio State football for a while.

So now the streak is over, and it will be up to the Blue Jackets to bounce back, reveal their inner grit and determination, and show that they belong among the best teams in the NHL by playing consistently good hockey for the rest of the season and well into the playoffs.  Their coach, tough-talking John Tortorella, has challenged them to do exactly that in the wake of the loss to Washington.  After all, that’s what good teams do.

The Columbus Blue Jackets — a good team.  Who’da thunk it?  It’s a great thing.

Advertisements

The CBJ Test My Hypothesis

I’ve gotten into an odd new habit this year:  I check the ESPN website the morning after a Columbus Blue Jackets to see how the team fared.  I did it this morning and learned that they won . . . again.

622873784_slideI don’t know beans about hockey.  I also don’t know if, or how, I could watch a CBJ game on TV.  I do know, however, that the team has been winning a lot this season.  As we roll into December, the Blue Jackets are 13-5-4.  In their last 10 games they’re an even more impressive 7-1-2.  You don’t have to know much about hockey to know that a team with that kind of recent record is playing well.  My friends who know hockey say that the team finally has a good offense, an even better defense, and a capable goalie.  (Then they lapse into increasingly enthusiastic and animated hockeybabble about first lines, power plays, power play kills, and other inexplicable topics, and my understanding of what is being discussed falls to zilch and I start wondering what the hell happened on the most recent episode of HBO’s Westworld.)

What’s interesting about all of this to me is what it might mean to Columbus.  Our fair city has two professional sports franchises — the Blue Jackets and the Columbus Crew soccer team.  The Crew has a very devoted following, but even though they’ve been extremely successful they’ve never really captured the city’s imagination.  The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, have never been successful.  Usually they get off to a terrible start and are effectively out of the running a month or two into the season — which isn’t exactly a recipe for developing legions of new hockey fans.  As a result, by December sports fans in Columbus are talking about Ohio State’s upcoming bowl game, the prospects for the basketball Buckeyes, and not much else.

I think there’s plenty of room for more dedicated sports fandom in Columbus, outside of our passion for Ohio State — provided the fans have something to root for.  I’m hoping the Blue Jackets continue to play well so they can test my hypothesis.  This year, I’m detecting a bit of a buzz about the team, even apart from the hockeyheads.  And of course it would be great for the city if the CBJ made a run in the NHL playoffs and brought some excitement, visitors, and hotel and restaurant and bar patrons to the Arena District.

So, let’s go, Jackets!  (Clap . . . clap . . . clapclapclap.)  Who knows?  I might actually go to a game this year and have a pal explain icing to me for the 45th time.

Zambonis On Parade

IMG_0683Last week I went to a Columbus Blue Jackets game.  It’s the first hockey game I’ve been to in a long while.  Surprisingly, the Blue Jackets won — which is pretty shocking, because the CBJ is mired in last place and beat a team that is competing for a playoff spot.

I’m not much of a hockey fan.  Frankly, my favorite part of the game was the Zambonis.   There’s something kind of hypnotic about these bulky, ungainly machines serenely gliding over the ice and leaving it smooth as silk.  For some reason, they reminded me of a visit Russell and I made, years ago, to the huge hippopotamus tank at the San Diego Zoo.  From above, the hippos looked almost graceful as they moved through the water, with only their massive heads visible above the surface, but walk down to see the animals from below and you notice that, under the serene facade, the hippos are swimming at a furious pace.  I’m guessing that, beneath the slow-moving exterior, there’s a lot of activity going on under the Zambonis.

When The All-Stars Come To Town

This weekend Columbus will host the NHL All-Star Game.  Already you see signs around town welcoming the players, coaches, fans, and other folks who are coming to town for the Game and the festivities — like these signs found at one of the hotels on Capitol Square in downtown Columbus.

IMG_4682Unfortunately, Columbus’s home team, the Blue Jackets, have been struggling this year.  Their fans will tell you it’s because they’ve been wracked with injuries.  After the CBJ closed with a rush last year, made the playoffs, and won a few games before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the hockey diehards hoped that the Jackets would get off to a fast start and the All-Star Game then would help to cement enthusiasm for the Winter Game in Ohio’s capital city.  Things haven’t quite worked out that way.

Still, it’s a great thing to have people from all over gather in Columbus for a weekend, and the Arena District, where the All-Star Game will be played, is an area that shows off Columbus very well.  I would say that I hope that the weather cooperates — but I’m not sure what kind of weather hockey aficionados want, anyway.  Maybe a winter snowstorm and frigid temperatures that would be unwelcome to most of us would just make the rinksters feel like dropping the puck and crashing the boards.

One other thing about hockey players:  unlike NFL stars, basketball players, and for that matter participants in the annual Arnold Sports Classic, hockey players are normal-sized.  When you run into them around town they also seem to be friendly, polite, hard-working guys.  They’ll fit right in in Columbus, a generally friendly, polite, hard-working town.

The Blue Jackets Go Down Swinging

The Columbus Blue Jackets lost last night, 4-3, and we knocked out of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It’s not an unexpected result — the Penguins were the higher seed and swept the CBJ during the regular season — but it’s an unfortunate one, because there was all kinds of happy buzz in Columbus about the Blue Jackets during the last few weeks.  The happy buzz grew as the Blue Jackets won their first playoff game ever, then won a second game on a last-second thriller.  Even during the losses the Blue Jackets fought hard and scrapped and made the going tough for the talented Penguins.  In last night’s game the CBJ trailed, 4-0, after two periods but they battled back to bring the game to 4-3.  They couldn’t quite get the tying goal that would have raised the roof — but the team’s lack of quit is impressive.

I’m not a believer is moral victories, but I am hoping that this season and the exciting playoff series galvanize Columbus hockey fans and motivate this very young Blue Jackets team to greater achievements next year.  With a few playoff wins under their belt this year, CBJ fans believe the future is bright and are hoping that the team contends for the Stanley Cup next year.  It would be a great thing for Columbus.

Let’s Go, Jackets!

Let me say at the outset that I am not a hockey fan. I don’t put an “eh” at the end of every sentence. I don’t know the difference between the red line and the blue line, and I’m lost when someone starts talking about “putting the puck in the five-hole.”

Nevertheless, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself regularly checking the ESPN website for hockey results, and on Wednesday night I actually listened to a hockey broadcast as I drove home from Cincinnati. The Blue Jackets won that game and clinched a playoff spot for only the second time in franchise history. With two games left in the regular season — included tonight’s matchup against Tampa Bay — the CBJ now are hoping to improve their playoff position and avoid a first-round series against either Boston or Pittsburgh, which are the two powerhouse teams in the Eastern Conference of the NHL.

Why do I care? I have a lot of friends who are Blue Jackets fans and season ticket holders who have suffered through some dismal, disappointing seasons since the team first started playing in 2000. I’m happy for them. I’m happy for Columbus, too. Nationwide Arena, where the CBJ skate, is the cornerstone of the Columbus Arena District. We need the team to be successful and prosperous for that area to continue to be a growing, vibrant destination. Playoff games will bring excitement, visitors, and tax revenues that will help fill city coffers. And if the Blue Jackets could make a playoff run, all of those positive benefits would be compounded.

Of course, the only time the Blue Jackets made the playoffs they were swept and out in three games — but that’s ancient history, right? Let’s go, Jackets!

The Blue Jackets Fall Just Short

Kish and I went out to dinner last night with friends, and downtown was hopping.  The Blue Jackets were playing, a potential spot in the NHL playoffs was on the line, and many of the people we saw were wearing their CBJ colors. 

We kept our eye on the TV as we dined, keeping track of the game, and continued to follow it when we stopped in a Short North bar for a frosty adult beverage after dinner.  Everyone in the establishment cheered when the CBJcame away with a hard-fought 3-1 victory, but our joy was short-lived — the other two teams vying for playoff spots won, and as a result the Blue Jackets are once more going to stay home for the NHL playoffs.

It was an exciting season for the Blue Jackets, and even non-hockey fans like me had to appreciate this team that wouldn’t quit and ended the season playing as well as anybody in the NHL.  Still, I’m not much for moral victories.  The fact remains that the CBJ didn’t quite play well enough to make the playoffs, and that is the bottom line.

I hope this young team can stay together, I hope that their young goalie, Sergie Bobrovsky, can continue to play as well as he did this year, and I hope that next year the Blue Jackets play for the entire season like they did over the last six weeks.  Hope, hope, and more hope.  If you are a hockey fan in Columbus, that’s what you’ve got to go on until next fall.