It’s been a long three months with no National Hockey League – four if you count the lost preseason. The NHL has been a significant part of my life since I moved to Columbus in 2006, and I have come to enjoy…no, rely upon…the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of my sporting entertainment habit.
Over the past few years, the ritual formed. If it’s fall, it’s training camp and early season…time to hit a couple of practices and see what type of team we have on our hands. The hockey sweaters (I’ve got a few) go on, worn pretty much every day until June. If it’s winter, I bundle up and head over to Nationwide Arena. The spring sees the stretch run of the regular season and the league’s Stanley Cup run. I spend time with my friend Chris at the games – catching up, cracking jokes, cheering for my team.
The lockout took all that away. I (re-)found football as a means to scratch my sporting itch but, despite Notre Dame’s exciting season, was left missing the constant flow and action of hockey. I searched out for college hockey, but what little I found just didn’t grab me like the NHL does.
Point being, there was a void. The routine was broken.
And then came Monday night.
Let’s set aside the pomp and circumstance of opening night (although I felt strangely calmed and inspired by John Davidson’s words from center ice). The free food was a nice gesture. The “Thank You Fans” warmup sweater giveaway was a fine touch. The new mega-scoreboard knocked my socks off. The player introductions were fine (and how about the chorus of cheers for Jared Boll?). The two-for-one ticket offer was greatly appreciated by the family of four sitting next to me – especially as the four-year-old got a surprise birthday present out of the game!
For me, however, the night so great because of the return to normalcy. For I enjoy so much of Columbus Blue Jackets – and NHL – hockey:
- The mad dash from the suburbs to grab my buddy to get downtown in time for faceoff.
- The tension that comes during warmups when the two teams prepare for battle.
- Leo Welsh belting out a national anthem or two.
- The mutual consolation society that spontaneously forms when they don’t.
- Gently — well, OK..not so gently — taunting the opposing goaltender.
- The cannon. And I enjoy watching first-time visiting players when the cannon goes off.
- Marveling at feats of incredible skill that can only be performed by elite hockey players. By that, I mean stuff like this:
- Seeing what’s new at the Blue Line CBJ merchandise store.
- The buzz out on the concourse after a Blue Jackets win, punctuated by the occasional high five between strangers.
- Lastly, I just enjoy being part of a huge group of people who take in the Arena District and share in the excitement of elite professional sports. For I honestly believe that shared experiences including sport are what make a community great and give it its character.
Hockey is back. Better stated, NHL hockey is back. It’s back in Columbus. I couldn’t be more pleased.