Opinion: The Columbus Blue Jackets deserve your attention

Matt Poe

Folks, I’ve dreamed of this day for quite a while. I’ve written many sports columns in my time – some singing praise – but most shining light on a sports organization or person that has done something negative to warrant your attention.

But hell, today I feel like being positive and making you aware of one of the great under-the-radar sports stories this year: the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I’ve never had the chance to write a column about my hometown hockey team because — since their inception as the youngest NHL franchise back in 2000 — the Blue Jackets have been bad.

Like bad, really bad.

Futile is one way to describe most of their history, aside from a playoff berth in 2009 and 2013, both of which resulted in first round exits. But this year, well, this year something magical is happening in Columbus.

The Jackets currently reside fifth overall in the NHL standings and third in their division, uncharted territory for a team that is notorious for horrific starts. Analyst after analyst had the Jackets as a bottom-dweller in the NHL this year.

Maybe they’d make a little noise, most thought. Maybe they’d be competitive down the stretch.

Rather than being just competitive, the Jackets have been dismantling opponents and own the second best goal differential in the league, including a 10-0 beat down of Montreal I witnessed in person back in November. The team is doing it without a bonafide superstar, too – something difficult to do in any professional league.

After his atrocious season last year, Nick Foligno— captain of the team — is back on track, scoring goals and setting up teammates in critical situations. Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski is emerging as one of the top defenseman in the league – at only 19 years old. The kid is phenomenal and deserves the national praise he’s getting.

Other players, like left wing Brandon Saad, right wing Cam Atkinson and centerman Alexander Wennberg are filling key roles and all look like potential all-stars this year.

And then, there’s goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s been stellar coming back from an injury-riddled season and looks every bit the part of a top 10 goalie he’s been in the past.

I’m in love with the game of hockey. I think never playing the sport growing up has molded my appreciation and love for it even more. The otherworldly abilities these players have in terms of skating, scoring, hand-eye coordination and grit is incredible.

Most sports fans argue football is the toughest of sports because of its physicality. But I disagree. The non-stop action of each game and the fact there are 82 games a season shows the tremendous endurance needed from hockey players. It’s one thing to survive a season, but to thrive in the hopes your team is the one who lifts Lord Stanley’s Cup come season’s end, is the ultimate prize.

Maybe that’s the Jackets this year. Over a quarter way through the season, they’ve shown no signs of slowing down. There’s still plenty of hockey to be played, and their biggest tests will come January to March, when the playoff push begins.

Only then will we find out this team’s identity. I encourage you to make the trip to Columbus for a game because there’s great student ticket discounts and seeing the game in person is a whole other animal. You’ll fall in love with it, rest assured.

It’s a strange feeling this season has brought upon Jackets fans; most of us feel like Charlie Brown, ready to kick the football as Lucy pulls it away at the last second. It’s a different feeling for this young franchise — both for its players and fans. But in sports and life, the importance of hope cannot be measured; it’s invaluable.

So please, ignore all the Penguins fans around this part of town and make an effort to watch the Jackets. Who knows, maybe some of that Cleveland Cavaliers and Indians postseason magic will rub off on them. This team has earned your attention, and that’s not something anyone could say before in Jackets history.

For that alone, I’m holding out hope.

Matt Poe is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].