I had an opportunity to take part in an interesting event following the Blue Jackets’ 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on February 2, a post-game “backstage pass” to meet the team. Even better, I was able to bring my 13-year-old son Spencer along for the event. I remember being a kid Spencer’s age once upon a time and the hero-worship that went along with following my favorite team, the Denver Broncos. Spencer’s fanhood of the Jackets is akin to my childhood love of the Broncos, and I had hopes of this being something we’d remember fondly together for a long time to come.
At the end of the game, Spencer and I were shuffled into a waiting area with around 20 other season ticket holders, and eventually led through a doorway into the underbelly of Nationwide Arena. Armed with a panoramic picture of the arena ice – our best bet from the Blueline store, we decided, for an autographable item – a sharpie and an iPhone camera, we were off in search of our hockey heroes. Along the walk to the corral outside the players’ locker room exit, we encountered former player (and current Development Coach) Tyler Wright. Tyler was happy to oblige our request for his autograph.…and just like that, the $25 I spent on the panoramic photo seemed worthwhile.
Once we reached the locker room exit and set up our operation – I would hold the picture, Spencer would take the pictures and we would tag-team the removal of the Sharpie lid – it seemed like we waited idly forever, wondering if we’d get to meet any players at all. Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert, neither of whom had played in the game due to injuries, stood outside the locker room socializing with a group of people; but eventually made an abrupt exit. After about an hour had passed since the game, and just when we were ready to give up hope and call it a night, Atkinson and Calvert returned to sign autographs for the fans who remained (which was approximately all of us).
Slowly over the course of the next hour, more of the Blue Jacket players began making their way out of the locker room. MacKenzie, Audy-Marchessault, Savard, Tyutin, Johnson, Boll, Dorsett, Foligno, Dubinsky. Every one of these guys – some alone, some together, some with their families, some carrying their post-game sushi meal in a takeout box – took the time to sign autographs and pose for pictures with all of the fans in attendance. They were friendly, they smiled and said thank you at the well-wishes from the adoring fan base and they gave freely of their time late on a Saturday night after an exhausting hockey game.
The most special point of the evening occurred when Spencer’s personal favorite player RJ Umberger emerged from the locker room. He thanked Spence and gave a him little manly shoulder touch for being a fan and proudly wearing his Umberger replica jersey, and Spencer reacted...well, about like a young Joey Reader would’ve reacted if John Elway had done the same. He bounced around giddily for a moment, proclaiming that his Umby-touched jackets would never be washed, and almost tripped over himself trying to get a picture of himself with RJ in the background.The Blue Jackets seemed in these moments less like super heroes and more like regular guys….humble and a little awkward and grateful for the support. These weren’t the guys that cause me to scream and curse at my television several nights a week, the ones who need to learn to pass and to score and to not turn the puck over in the defensive zone. They were simply the guys I admire for putting on the CBJ uniform, for competing on the ice and for giving the hockey fans of Columbus the joy of watching our team play the game we love.