Loud And Proud

As the Columbus Blue Jackets have moved forward in the NHL playoffs, there’s been a lot of buzz at the national level about how loud the crowd is during home games at Nationwide Arena.  Between the cannon blasts and the screaming fans, the consensus is that the home crowd gives the CBJ a decided home ice advantage.  My friends who have gone to some of the playoff games — to the extent their ringing ears allow them to understand human speech at all — have confirmed that yes, it’s loud.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue JacketsA story in the local press offered some scientific evidence of just how loud Nationwide Arena has been.  Using a decibel meter to measure the noise level, the article reported that it was 98 decibels — about the noise level of a snowmobile — before the most recent playoff game even started, the noise increased to 111 decibels (chainsaw level) when the teams took the ice, and the pandemonium topped out at 118 decibels (just about the noise of an ambulance siren passing by) when the game ended and the Blue Jackets took home a victory to move into a 2-1 series lead against the Boston Bruins.

It’s pretty impressive, but it’s worth pointing out that the Nationwide Arena fans are still far off the loudest crowd noise ever recorded at a sports event — 142 decibels, during a 2014 NFL playoff game in Kansas City.  That level of deafening noise might be out of reach, but for game 4 of the Boston series, tonight, Blue Jackets fans are aiming to get up to 125 decibels, which is about the level of a jackhammer.

It’s all very interesting to me, because I’m learning something new about my fellow Columbusites.  I wouldn’t say that Columbus sports fans are a sit-on-their-hands group, but I also haven’t thought of them as a raucous mob capable of producing a constant, pulsating ear-splitting din in support of their hometown teams.  Apparently I’ve been wrong all these years — it’s just taken a little NHL playoff run to up the uproar level and bring out the bedlam.

Going to Nationwide Arena for one of these games would be a great experience, but be sure to bring your earplugs.

Off The Schneid — In Spectacular Fashion

The Columbus Blue Jackets came into the National Hockey League in the 2000-01 season.  In the 19 years since, the team has made the playoffs several times, but it has never won a single playoff series, and every year, dedicated Blue Jackets fans have gone home disappointed.

fans_celebrate_columbus_blue_jackets_swe_9_82832195_ver1.0_1280_720Until now.  This year, the Blue Jackets and their fans are off the schneid — and in spectacular fashion, too.

The Blue Jackets made the playoffs on the last weekend of the regular season.  As the eighth seed, they had to face the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning, which had tied the NHL record for the number of wins in a season, racked up an absurd number of points, and led the NHL in virtually every statistical category.  Tampa Bay was a prohibitive favorite in the series, and no one outside of the hopeful Columbus fan base gave the Blue Jackets much of a chance.

And yet, the CBJ won.  And they not only won, they did so in dominant fashion, sweeping the Lightning and capping off their triumph with a 7-3 win last night.  The fact that the Blue Jackets beat the Lightning at all is extraordinary — the Lightning were the biggest favorites to lose a playoff series since 2010 — but the fact that the CBJ won in a sweep is historic.  Tampa Bay is the first team in the NHL’s expansion era to get swept in the first round of the playoffs after leading the league in points during the regular season.  That means the Blue Jackets have done something no team has done in more than 50 years.

I’m thrilled for the Blue Jackets, for their fans who get to savor the taste of a playoff series win, and also for Columbus itself, which will enjoy some of the fun and excitement and craziness as the NHL playoffs move forward and the city’s home team advances.  The CBJ will play the winner of the Boston-Toronto series in the next round.

March on, CBJ!

Let’s Go, CBJ!

The National Hockey League playoffs are underway.  The Columbus Blue Jackets had an up-and-down season and were one of the last teams to clinch a playoff spot.  Their reward was to draw the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.  The Lightning had a record-setting season that saw them lose only 16 games, and in their playoff match-up with the CBJ they are prohibitive favorites.

hi-res-51cdc32831e0d855c06d86564e0f71ab_crop_northPlaying at home in the first game of the playoff series last night, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, making the prognostications of a four-game sweep look solid.  But somehow, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made some improbable saves, the Blue Jackets kept their poise and started chipping away at the lead, and thanks to a three-goal third period and a last-minute power play score the CBJ — improbably — pulled out a victory on the road.

One road victory does not a series win make — as the Jackets learned last year, even two road wins doesn’t do that — but last night’s win allows CBJ fans to dream of an upset and has to give the team a shot of confidence.  Speaking for the city of Columbus, it would be nice to see the Blue Jackets, who have never won a playoff series in their history, advance to the second round.  For now, though, we’ll just settle for the general aura of good feeling that descends upon a town when its team gets a big win.  I expect there will be a lot of happy faces around downtown Columbus today.

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.

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.

The CBJ And The Hunt For An Elusive Playoff Spot

The Columbus Blue Jackets are fighting for a perch in the National Hockey League playoffs, and in their quest for the post-season they are taking the people of Columbus along for a sweet ride.

The Blue Jackets, unfortunately, have a record of failure.  Since beginning play in 2000, the team has made the playoffs precisely once.  In most of those years, the Blue Jackets collapsed and were out of the playoffs early — which means there hasn’t been much playoff excitement in the Columbus hockey world.

This year, no one except the most ardent fan had any reason to expect anything different.  The Blue Jackets had traded their best player, Rick Nash, and had a grab bag roster.  But the team has jelled under the stewardship of coach Todd Richards and has a hot goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, who has instilled confidence in his teammates.  To the delight of fans, the team has been terrific in April and has been especially good on its current west coast road trip, on which the Blue Jackets have won four out of five games.  With last night’s nail-biter win over the San Jose Sharks, the CBJ moved into a tie for seventh place with two games to play.   Eight teams make the playoffs.

It would be great for the city of Columbus to see some playoff hockey that will keep the arena district humming for a while longer, but it would be particularly rewarding to see the franchise generally, and this group of players specifically, achieve some success.  The franchise has been a good corporate citizen, and the players are a scrappy, hard-working bunch that it is impossible not to like — particularly when they say the word “aboot.”

So, let’s go, Jackets!  Clap, Clap, CLAP-CLAP-CLAP.

The CBJ And The Arena District Deal

Columbus’ Arena District is one of the rapidly growing areas of the city.  The district is home to Nationwide Arena, where the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets play and rock concerts and other special events are held, as well as apartments, condominiums, offices, restaurants, bars, and Huntington Park, the home field of the Columbus Clippers.  It’s an area that is bustling with activity, day and night.

The only dark cloud on the horizon is that the Blue Jackets are struggling financially, and there is concern that the franchise might leave for greener (or in the case of the NHL, snowier) pastures and a better deal that provides them with more revenue.  Columbus leaders worry that if the arena’s anchor tenant leaves, the Arena District might wither on the vine.  So, a long-term deal has been worked out.  Columbus and Franklin County pledge a share of taxes to be produced by the not yet opened Columbus casino to buy and operate the arena — the total contribution over 27 years is expected to approach $250 million — and in exchange the Blue Jackets get to use the arena rent-free and promise to stay in Columbus until 2039.  Although local politicians and community leaders all seem to support the deal, some people are opposed.  They want the casino tax revenues used for other purposes, and they object to the fact that the deal won’t be put before local voters.

I think most people in the Columbus area are proud of the Arena District and will support the arrangement.  It sure would help, however, if the Blue Jackets were a better team, generated more excitement and attendance, and made the playoffs.  It will be a lot easier for the people of Columbus to swallow the cost of supporting a perennial Stanley Cup contender than a perennial also-ran.

Last night the NHL season began, and the Blue Jackets opened with a game at Nationwide Arena against the Nashville Predators.  The CBJ lost, 3-2.

Blue Jacket Blues

Tonight the National Hockey League playoffs begin!  Throughout the land, the sense of excitement and anticipation is palpable.  But there is no joy in Mudville — er, Columbus — because the Blue Jackets have once again fallen short.  They and their fans are sitting on the sidelines, watching as the ridiculously protracted NHL playoff process gets underway without them.

The Blue Jackets have been in existence for 10 years.  During that time, they made the playoffs once, and were promptly bounced out.  This record of futility is a kind of perverse accomplishment, because in the 30-team NHL 16 teams — that is, more than half — make the playoffs.  To miss the playoffs year after year takes some doing.  I don’t know anything about hockey and don’t follow the sport, so I can’t offer even the kind of banal second-guessing that is the stock in trade of most sports fans.  It just seems like the Blue Jackets are snake bit, and once a team gets that kind of rep it is tough to dispel it.

As a Cleveland sports fan, I’m used to this kind of dismal performance, but I do feel badly for the Blue Jackets and their fans as they sit back, crack open a Molson’s lager, and wait until next year.

Blue Jackets On A Roll

Columbus has two professional sports franchises — the Columbus Crew Major League Soccer team, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, a National Hockey League franchise.  (Some would argue that the real big-league team in town is the Ohio State Buckeyes.)

The Crew won the MLS Cup a few years ago, but the Blue Jackets have been a kind of Sad Sack team.  The made the playoffs one year and quickly were eliminated.  Other than that, their record has been abysmal.  In most years, they have been virtually eliminated from the playoff hunt by the beginning of January, and the hardy souls who buy season tickets are begging their friends to use the ducats thereafter.

This year is different.  The Jackets have a new coach, are playing a new style of hockey, and have started the season 13-6, including a stellar 7-1 record on the road.  The team has a good corps of young players, including star scorer Rick Nash, and two good goalies in Mathieu Garon and Steve Mason.  While the season is still young, there is hope in Columbus that the franchise may have turned the corner.  The question for hockey fans is whether the CBJ could be one of the NHL’s better teams, capable of playing deep into the playoffs — something that would be good for Columbus and great for the franchise.

We may learn the answer soon enough to the question about how good the Blue Jackets really are.  On Friday the perennial NHL power, the Detroit Red Wings, visit Nationwide Arena for a key divisional contest.