Saturday, September 10, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Matt & the Columbus Blue Jackets

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 23 of 30: the Columbus Blue Jackets


HOW COLUMBUS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

From all indications, Columbus is looking to win - and win in a hurry.

The Blue Jackets came into existence in 2000, along with the Minnesota Wild. In those 10 seasons, the team has only been to the playoffs once (2008-09), where they were swept out of the Conference Quarterfinals by the Red Wings.

It's hard to want to support a team with a record like that, especially a newer franchise in a "less traditional" (but not sunbelt) hockey market. Until this summer, their top star has been Rick Nash, who was drafted by Columbus first overall in 2002. He earned a Calder nomination in 2003, and has been to the All-Star Game four times. He has earned the Rocket Richard Trophy, and he was part of the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. It says a lot about Columbus that, despite the team's struggles, Nash has remained a Blue Jacket, but he can't do it all by himself.

This summer, the Blue Jackets not only made the moves to bring in some big names (Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski) but also did some general retooling, parting ways with a number of players, and are expected to fill any gaping holes from their AHL affiliate, the Springfield (MA) Falcons.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Jeff Carter (PHL), Mark Dekanich (NSH), Radek Martinek (NYI), Vinny Prospal (NYR), Curtis Sanford, James Wisniewski (MTL)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Nikita Filatov (OTT), Mathieu Garon (TBL), Jan Hejda (COL), Sami Lepisto (CHI), Scottie Upshall (FLA), Jakub Voracek (PHL)
Is this new team going to make a strong run for the Stanley Cup? Probably not. But Rick Nash will finally have some strong proven talent alongside him on the front lines, and Wisniewski can help bolster the defense. The team is going to do their best to make a bid for the playoffs, which means they should be a thorn in the side of other Central division teams (Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis). It will take some time for the retooled team to gel, but they need to do so in a hurry; the fan base is impatient - with good reason - to taste the post season, and the team needs to bolster their presence if the club expects to be able to continue to call Columbus home.

Columbus is also one of the teams in discussion for a potential move to the Eastern Conference next season, when the NHL should be re-aligning divisions and conferences in light of Atlanta's move to Winnepeg.

* * *

For the Blue Jackets, we talked with Matt, who can be found on Twitter at @zekebud; he's been a Blue Jackets fan for about 4 years.

Let's talk about your fandom a little bit.

My hockey fandom is a fairly young one. When I started college, I really didn't know anything about the sport besides fighting and random names like "Gretzky" or "Lemieux." But I went to college at Clarkson University, where hockey was in the DNA. All it took was attending one game and I was hooked. I had labeled the game as merely brutal, but I didn't realize that it was so majestic. Plays formed and developed in fluid motion, passes required exceptional skill, and shots were timed to perfection.

Of course it helps that hockey fans are the best in sports. Community was another huge push for me to get into the sport: a small-yet-passionate student group would come to every game and quickly became part of my set of friends. And for me, it made sense to become a Blue Jackets fan. They were "new" and young (much like me in the hockey world). It also helped that the farm team was local to me (Syracuse) and the best Clarkson player was a Columbus pick (Clitsome).

My Jackets fandom slowly grew along with my Clarkson experience. Now as a Clarkson grad, I look back on my college days with fondness and see hockey as a large part of that. Live games, discussions with friends, NHL videogames... it all adds up. I'm glad I finally joined the hockey world and I'm glad to be a fan of such a fun franchise as the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Jeff Carter

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I think that Columbus has improved in many places, but it's very difficult to gauge where the team stands. Offense was sorely lacking last year and the powerplay was miserable, so the additions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski make a ton of sense. These should instantly upgrade the Jackets' scoring ability and take some pressure off the defense and goaltending.

Unfortunately, it's these last two parts that leave me questioning. While Wisniewski helps on defense and Radek Martinek will be a good player when healthy, much of the poor defense from last year remains intact. Another problem is Steve Mason - he's a talented goalie but maddeningly inconsistent. If he can find a reasonable form, the Jackets will likely make the playoffs. But if he falters, the team will be a bottom feeder again. The pressure is on Mason, and that's slightly worrisome to me.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

9th in the Western Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

My favorite moment was watching Matt Calvert's first NHL hat trick. It was a point in the season when the Jackets were still in the tight playoff race and the game seemed very close throughout. So to see a second period outburst from Calvert was shocking and elating. He looked like a man possessed as he found places to score and delivered on his promising play from the AHL. Of course that third goal was the true treat; the goal represented both individual excellence and team accomplishment over a strong Phoenix team. It was a real high point in the a season with too many lows.

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