Hockey season officially starts for the Columbus Blue Jackets on August 21st. Well, for the CCHYA 01A Columbus Blue Jackets any ways. Much like any hockey team, there are many new faces on our squad this year. "Management" has made their decision who stays, who moves up, who gets cut and the coaching looks to install it's winning formula with the players management has given us. Most decisions I support, one or two I have issues with. But as a coach you move on and work with the squad you have. Half the team from last year is the same, half the team is new. All the boys are turning 11 this year and come fully equipped with a set of passionate parents. We've had a combination of 6 on ice skills sessions and 6 hockey training sessions with the boys so far this summer.
There is still pride in putting on that Columbus Blue Jackets jersey to these 11 year-old boys. The new boys show a slight glimpse of envy to last years boys who are wearing their fitted practice jerseys from last season. The new boys are wearing their two sizes too big "Brand X" jersey from some camp with mis-matched gloves and helmets. There is some pride knowing there set of game jerseys, practice jerseys, and embroidered travel gear with their name on it is coming very soon. But it's the pride of putting on that travel gear that drives the boys. But that CBJ logo doesn't have the shine to the boys beyond it signifying a travel team. We could be the Tallahassee Dumpster Hornets and there would be as much pride putting on the gear if it were to signify a travel team.
As a general rule, I forbid anyone on the team from selecting the jersey number of 99, 61,and 87. I have nothing against those players, but feelings get hurt when kids fight over the numbers - and no one over the age of 8 should step onto the ice in any competitive capacity wearing the number 99. But for a 3rd year in a row, no one is fighting for Derek Dorrset's number. No one knows what number Brassard wears. None of the defenseman fight for 44, 97, 6, 21, or 7. My goalies avoid whatever numbers the CBJ goalies are wearing, even if it means spending $250 for a new set of jerseys. No one wants number 18, and he was a Buckeye.
What does it say when the impressionable boys on a Columbus Blue Jackets travel hockey team start showing up with LA Kings hats, Flyers T-shirts, and Red Wings hoodies? The day Nash was traded we had a practice. The boys were confused and couldn't understand why the CBJ would want to trade their best scorer. There was no ill feeling from the boys towards Nash, no convoluted talk about honor or duty. Just confusion, but the understanding that no one wants to play on a last place team forever. After all, the connection to the Blue Jackets isn't a strong one to youth hockey in Columbus - the Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association has the right to use the Blue Jacket name and logo for it's travel team - that's about it.
Sure, there is the "Blue Jackets Hockey School." Seldom, if ever, is an NHL Blue Jacket to be found at the rink during Blue Jacket hockey school. But this year the kids did get Martin Spanhel, a guy who barely played a dozen games a decade ago. There is great instruction at these camps, but the Blue Jackets do very little to capture the hearts and minds of the hockey playing youth in Central Ohio. They are missing a great opportunity to give the kids a chance to fall in love with the Blue Jackets. Because really, when you're losing 10 million dollars a year and only generating $34 of revenue per fan, getting autograph sessions at Front Street Friday is more critical than a grass roots campaign. I guess somewhere in the marketing brilliance of of the NHL and Columbus Blue Jackets, going after the disposable income located within a few blocks of the arena is a better formula than an all out blitz where hockey is played every day. I understand the number of people who play hockey in Columbus could barely fill the lower bowl at Franklin County, er, Nationwide Arena. But hey, the "Nick and Rick Show" poster at Dublin Chiller is all that need remind me of the successful marketing campaign the Blue Jackets employ.
My single A travel team will start their twice-a-week practices next week. They will pull on their Blue Jackets practice jerseys, put on their union blue socks and helmets, and talk about players from other NHL teams while they are stretching. They will be proud to be part of a travel hockey team, despite their name sake doing very little to inspire them. They will skate every practice not knowing that the majority owner is more passionate about a lock-out than he is about hiring the right kind of management team. Arena deals and salary caps may fix the financial woes of an NHL franchise for a while, but those deals were in place in 2001, 2002, and 2003 when this miserable NHL franchise turned a profit and packed the arena. Regardless of how the NHL franchise does, the 01 A Blue Jackets have a title to defend and have a banner to raise. They learned how to play together as a team, and once they bought into that, the championship was inevitable. Perhaps the Blue Jackets have something to learn from us. Maybe if the franchise did come to the Chiller every now and again, they could see what passion looked like in a CBJ sweater. Maybe just the mere sighting of a player at the rink would actually endear players to the kids on a travel team. But that's wishing for a lot, much like wishing for anything from the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets...