embrace the hate

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Anyone who’s scoured Columbus Blue Jackets social media in the last month or so can probably tell you a story of fans in other markets dumping our team, our fan base, or our city. I’ve chosen my wording carefully here because it’s important – it’s OUR team. We should be proud of that, even if history suggests otherwise.

I have been with this team since its inception. In fact, since long before it was founded…I was one of the few kids in Columbus who played hockey BEFORE there was an NHL franchise there. I know this will probably make some jaws drop (especially if any out-of-market fans are reading this). I remember going to tryouts when there were only enough kids signed up for an entire league, and we needed one ice surface for two hours to dispatch the teams. Man, a lot of things have changed since then.

Hockey is a big deal in Columbus now, way more popular than I could have ever imagined. Those of us who remember watching Chill (ECHL) games have now seen a whole generation of kids growing up watching the Blue Jackets. There are even kids from central Ohio now playing for the Blue Jackets, who weren’t even born before the Blue Jackets played NHL games. But there was a growing hockey market in Columbus long before the NHL announced its move to Columbus.

Nashville Knights’ Gary Lebsack, center left, and Columbus Chill’s Craig Binns (5) face off late in the first period as the officials wait for a moment to break. The Knights won 6-4 in front of 3,130 fans at the Municipal Auditorium on January 6, 1995.
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The reason I’m bringing all this up is that it seems like we’ve always sought approval from opposing fans. Many of us felt the need to belong, to be included and welcomed by the league. It never happened, and it never will. The Blue Jackets didn’t dominate the league in their freshman year like the Vegas Golden Knights did. We don’t have a handful of other big sports teams to lean on like Seattle or Minneapolis.

In fact, years of mismanagement have caused this team to struggle heavily. I’m sure it left us feeling left behind. We have long been bottom eaters. We’ve seen almost every franchise have success – fall to the bottom – and then have success again, while our Blue Jackets waited for the next draft pick to be made. Sure, there were flashes of success…a playoff berth in 2009. We actually won a few playoff games in 2014, giving us arguably the most memorable moment in our history, at least so far. :

We’ve seen the John Tortorella years, which we can inevitably look back on and wonder how close this team really came to competing for a Cup. There wasn’t a lot of big talent here, but man, they were OUR Blue Jackets and they worked hard. We then saw glimpses of hatred. Most of it was directed towards misdemeanors; or maybe our players were still not good enough.

But hate is a funny thing. It only comes when your team is good.

COLUMBUS, OH – APRIL 16: The Columbus Blue Jackets celebrate after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 16, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus beat Tampa Bay 7-3 to win the series 4-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Most people couldn’t care less about the Blue Jackets in 2007 or even 2015. We were called a “garbage organization,” or we were told “move them to (insert city here)…” But when this team was pushing further market teams out of playoff spots? We have seen it. The signing this summer of Johnny Gaudreau caused shock waves in the hockey world that are still being felt, several weeks later. Since then, we’ve had only a shadow of league fans. People want to take it out on our city, our fan base… even bring up the past failures of our team.

In other words, they wouldn’t care if it didn’t matter. This team is growing fast, and for the first time in our history, we have a superstar player who chose to play here. Other NHL fanbases aren’t used to that. They don’t want to see the Blue Jackets compete for a cup, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Jarmo Kekalainen has a mix of talents here like we’ve never seen before, and it’s scary. So embrace the hate that’s pouring in, make some noise, be proud. These are our blue jackets, and the whole landscape of the Metropolitan Division has just changed.

They can no longer consider us forgotten, Columbus is firmly on the map as an NHL market. Most of us have known and seen him for years. The rest of the NHL is about to find out.

Posted In NHL

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