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.

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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 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.

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.