Thursday, November 11, 2010

Changing the culture - Inside and out

It's been a fascinating twenty-four hours in Columbus Blue Jackets land.

One day ago, the CBJ were facing the prospect of hosting the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues, who sported a gaudy 9-1-1 record.  The Jackets were not in a bad position per se, with an 8-5 record and an eight seed in the West, but they came off a disappointment against Minnesota that was punctuated by a deflating third period.  

Scott Howson and Scott Arniel appear to understand that the keys to
a consistent winning program don't entirely lie in X's and O's.
(Photo from the Columbus Blue Jackets)
The feeling of loathing permeated the fanbase.  Me included.  I mean, look at these quotes, from both Twitter and blogs:
I'm sure I could find more examples, but this is a decent, representative sample of what I was sensing from at least some.  (But not all!)  And dare I say that the concern was the same inside the CBJ locker room?  Check out this bit from the Dispatch pre-game coverage:
“If you let things bother you before you ever play the game – shame on you, especially being a professional athlete,” [CBJ head coach Scott] Arniel said “It’s all about what happens next. You can’t worry about what your record has been in other years.”
We have yet another case where Arniel sees the problem and attacks it head-on.  This one isn't about on-ice competitiveness, though.  It's about taking on the culture of a losing franchise head-on.  This is hard work that takes time and persistence.  And Arniel isn't alone in this crusade: As I've mentioned in days past, general manager Scott Howson has used almost all of his personnel chips since the middle of last season not on improving team skill but instead on changing the team's mindset through the addition of veteran leaders like Clark and Moreau.

Jake Voracek and the Columbus Blue Jackets are learning to
be winners - perhaps we fans should follow suit and embrace
them as winners.  Is the bar rising in Columbus?
(Photo from the Bleacher Report)
To successfully attack this problem, your team has to be competitive.  Better yet, you have to win.  You have to back up the talk.  You have to prove to your teammates, team, management, ownership, fans and larger community that you actually ARE focussed on the game at hand and not the baggage of prior games, of prior years.

So what did Arniel and his troops come out and do?  They backed it up.  In spades.  After setting the tone even before the puck dropped, they destroyed the St. Louis Blues in roughly 30 minutes of game play.  (The back 30, in my opinion, was about piling on the glory over the beaten opponent and denying the Blues the chance to save face as the game wound down.)

Games like take on an importance that far exceeds the two points that the CBJ picked up in the standings (not to mention the 1-2 points denied to the Blues).  The term "statement game" is apt.  This game sent a statement, both inside and outside the locker room, that the Columbus Blue Jackets can not just be "not bad," not just be good...but actually be dominant.

This is a message that will take time to sink in, though.  It took 10 years for the Blue Jackets (and their fans) to learn the ways of the losing franchise.  The feeling won't change overnight.

We're off to a good start with this Howson/Arniel combination.  They're saying the right things.  They're doing the right things.  It's a long season, and there's 10 years of losing to un-learn, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the combination of the second Chicago game, the Philadelphia game, the Montreal game and last night's demolition of St. Louis is suggesting that the worm finally has turned.

So perhaps it's time to consider dropping our emotional defenses as we gain confidence in this team - just as they appear to be gaining confidence in themselves.  And, just perhaps, (well-stated) post-game expressions of loathing followed by surprise like this won't be necessary as the days roll on...
My family didn't want to go to this game. They thought it was going to be a "butt-kicking". They were right. This game is by far the most exciting game we've ever been to...
I think we're on our way.

Boom.

4 comments:

  1. I'm as happy as anyone about last night and the start of the season, in general, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. We've got the hated Avs, tomorrow, then our first West Coast swing. Get past that by playing as they have over the last ten games (let alone as they did last night!) and we can start buying in to the
    "not the same old Jackets" tune! I'm ready and willing to do it, but give it another week, or so. Last year's start was strong, too, and I recognize that this is not necessarily the same as that team, but don't start planning any parades, just yet. Demand more? Hell yah! Expect it? Not quite yet.

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  2. Please do us all a favour and quit speaking as the voice of CBJ fans. Not everybody feels as you do: The feeling of loathing permeated the fanbase.

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  3. I go by what I see, Anon. Simple as that.

    You may also wish to note that I did mention in the following paragraph that the opinion was not unanimous.

    But was it pervasive? Yup.

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  4. I must say, the Jackets made me eat my words. Quite possibly the least stressful game I have watched in some time.

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