Monday, June 20, 2011

Who remembers the honeymoon?

In reading the most recent periodic Dispatch chat about the Blue Jackets, the beat writer had an interesting exchange with one of his readers:
[PortiesMaloneGate] AP, you and Arace mentioned in Cannon Fodder that some of the front office staff don't necessarily understand the bond that existed between this market and the first few teams, It almost seemed like you guys stopped short of further going down that rabbit hole... I understand if you cannot name names but can you provide some clarity to those comments? 
[Portzline] It's a feeling, and it's held by far more people than just me and my esteemed colleague. I've talked to former players who hear people in Columbus talk about establishing roots with fans and getting the market off the ground, and that leaves them flummoxed. The roots were here, they note, but the years of losing and an increasing detachment between the organization and the fan base, has led them to wither on the vine. There are very few people left now who fully understand how special those first few years were, the love affair that existed between the players and the fans and the city. It's common to hear visiting media say "It's a shame" when they come to town and see the building. They remember what it used to be.
I find this very interesting, largely because I literally wasn't in Columbus during this "what it used to be" period. When I followed the NHL, I wasn't following the CBJ. Thus, I have zero perception of what this magic "honeymoon" (my term) period was like.

I know for a fact that this blog is read by long-time hockey fans - many of whom became CBJ fans before the team even dropped the puck for the first time.  Can I prevail upon some of you to offer your thoughts on this issue?  Might someone be able to further explain the subtext behind the above dialogue?  What made the early days of the CBJ so special?  I'm genuinely interested to learn from your experiences, everyone.

If you have some brief thoughts, please feel free to post them in the comments.  If you want longer space to share your recollections and perhaps a comparison to what we see today, drop me an email at darkbluejacket [at] sbcglobal [dot] net and I'll be happy to create a separate post for your efforts.

11 comments:

  1. it was hard to get tickets teh first 3 seasons.... constant sellouts. Loud ruckus arena.... with hard working playings better then what the records really was. it was some funs times at nationwide back then.

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  2. It was great. Packed house game after game and real lunchbox blue collar teams with a lot of likable players. The building was always loud and the atmosphere was incredible. I was at the first game against Chicago and when the team took the 3-0 lead, it was the loudest sporting event I'd ever been at. The city was genuinely excited to have this team.

    Evidence is still there. Game 4 against Detroit was unbelievable. The energy in the building was like nothing I'd ever felt, even surpassing opening night in 2000. Even last year there's signs that this is a hockey town. Last year's game against Phoenix, when Calvert scored the hat-trick, felt a lot like the games pre-lockout. The fans were hungry and you could feel the desire for a winner in the air. I firmly believe that if they put a winner on the ice, the people will return and the city will be a shining example of hockey working in Ohio.

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  3. DeathCabforWoodyJune 20, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    I was a season ticket holder until I moved to Seattle in 2006. The first 3-4 seasons were great. The building was loud and the team played hard. There was a work ethic with that group of players that seemed to change the moment we gave Nash the C...just my opinion, but he needs to have a Joe Thornton-esque transformation into a real leader before that team gets a any better. Leadership was the real foundation for that team in the early days from Dineen, Tyler Wright, Luke Richardson, and even some of the other grinders. There is no nasty streak for the crowd to feed from (other than Boller) like there was a in the early CBJ days. CBJ is in a weird place right now...not enough talent to be a Red Wings-style club...not enough toughness to be the Preds...I love and effing hate this team at the same time. I wish the work ethic of the honeymoon teams existed with the current roster, because the team would never have an issue with making the playoffs.

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  4. I remember it pretty well. They didn't win a whole lot but it was still fun to go. I remember being at 2 games specifically:

    1. One where Jody Shelly had two goals. I can't remember what year it was, but I'm pretty sure it was against Dallas (or San Jose). The CBJ won the game and he was named first star. The whole place went nuts.

    2. Vyborny scored a goal with less than 10 seconds to go in OT to give the Jackets the win. (Against the Avs maybe?) This was back when they could get ties so to get the win in OT was big. Again the whole place went nuts. Back then it was almost like the fans were happy to see the guys hard work pay off.

    You always knew they were going to try hard. But you also knew they were outgunned most of the nights.

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  5. Too many former season ticket holders that I've talked to just got tired of the apathy towards their fans, and the general blame game coming from the organization. First it was Ray Whitney was the cause of all the ills, then it was Dougie Mac, then it was Hitch, and on and on and on. The organization had a chance to really grasp onto something good with Columbus, but now I don't think their would be that big an uproar if they left especially with season ticket projections not expecting to break the 7000 mark (per 97.1 earlier today).

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  6. DBJ-
    This is kind of a funny thing. There was a definite feeling those first few years. Part of that was what Doug MacLean was selling. Florida had leaped to the cup finals in just a few years with Doug as coach. He was selling 'we can do it too' and people were buying.

    Those who remember the 'first few years' of being teams that always worked hard, have rose colored glasses. That was DEFINITELY true for the first season. The second season they had a slogan of something like 'all out every night', and it just didn't happen like that. This ended up costing Kinger his job. And this is where the promises started getting broken, and people really began to see how tall the mountain to the Stanley Cup really is.

    Doug spent a lot of time trying to take shortcuts, and spent a lot of time annoying the NHL brass. I'm not trying to kncok down Doug per se. He got an NHL team started in a vacuum for which he deserves some real credit. He was unable to duplicate the Florida miracle, and that's on him. But I am not sure anyone could have.

    So although it really took awhile to sink in for a lot of the fans, the honeymoon was over at the end of the first year. That didn't mean that the wide didn't rock, but the blush was off the rose, really when Dave King got fired.

    And then you could really tell that the talent was lacking, and we waited for the draft to throw another young first round pick to the wolves, because that is all we had.

    So the maturation process is taking longer than everyone wanted. And as annoyed as I get with Howson at times, he is truly looking after the long term good of the franchise. We are deeper than we have ever been, but we still suffer from being a comparatively young franchise.

    Growing pains are no fun. We are no longer the cute little baby on the NHL block, we are the ugly teenager. And no one likes the ugly teenager until they bloom into an adult. Which will happen to this franchise eventually.

    The last time Boston won a cup was 40 years ago. The expectation here is that we should get there much sooner. But that just shows you how hard of a thing to get.

    Yeah, and folks will bring up Detroit. All I have to say is that life is lot easier when you have a hall of fame defenseman. And cups seem to follow those guys around. We don't have a hall of fame defenseman, so must do it the hard way.

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  7. I had a CBJ jersey before we had a roster. The very thought of stepping into a barn that was ours, that wasn't an echl team gave me butterflies. The day came that I stepped foot into an NHL barn. Game 1 vs the Blackhawks. We lost that game. It didn't matter. I cried. I stood in awe of the speed, the skill, the very essence of the top tier of hockey. It didn't matter we weren't very good, becuae they were our boys. I think it all started to turn when we made the playoffs. A ragtag group of misfits (minus Nash) that wasn't expected to be anything by anyone made it. For lack of a better term, it spoiled us. We wanted more. Now, we felt like we deserved it, not only because of the winning, but because we were seeing our rivals winning. Teams like Minnesota, Atlanta and Nashville who came in around the time we did making the best of a small market, and it coulda should woulda been us. I still get goosebumps in our barn, and I still love our boys, because they are ours. But I've also grown to LOVE winning.

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  8. The first couple of years were great. Any sporting event that is sold out is going to be great. That changed because the team underperformed on the ice from year two on. A lot of people grumble about how season-ticket holders were not given any attention, and we weren't, but winning would have cured that.

    What some see as the good old days never really existed though. Even in the first season the team finished no better than last place. Almost immediately after that year a progression of veterans who were just mailing it in filled out the roster while management overruled scouting at the draft. What talent there was in the system was rushed and never developed. The bloom came of the rose because with very few exceptions the team did not even compete most nights.

    I am all for taking the current management team to task when it is called for. But the accusations in last weeks chat were pretty gutless by Portzline. This is not the first time he has made these allusions to being disconnected, but he does not name names or give examples. As a counter example, I am year one PSL holder, name is one of those plaques and everything. The ticket rep I have had over the past year to 18 months is the first one I have learned the name of. I have been contacted by the sales office more in that time than had in the previous nine years. I have received surveys on how to improve the PSL and in-game experience, and I have seen small changes. Management has hired somebody new to handle marketing and the in-game entertainment.

    I have stopped reading the Dispatch for CBJ news and never listened to WBNS. Portzline and Arace have an obvious issue with CBJ management, and the feeling is mutual. Notice that the Dispatch is never the first with CBJ news. I don't mind that so much, because there is a fine community of bloggers to keep the flow of information going. But, the public in general sees only the headlines in the Dispatch and the constant negative drum beating is going to hurt the team. Don't sugarcoat the bad stuff, but stop making up crap.

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  9. As an "outsider" to the Jackets world (up until the last 3-4 years) I've never had much insight into the early years and I find these comments fascinating.

    I do have one question for any of the DBJ Crew or other commenters - what was your opinion of the original CBJ jerseys? My experience doesn't have any emotional/mental connection to the on-ice product, so I can't help but be disgusted when I see the original CBJ uniform. While I'd like to think that I'm not so pathetic as to abandon a team for their logo and jersey, I don't know that I would have been so quick to join the Jackets if they hadn't changed style.

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  10. There are so many memories from the first few seasons that I can't begin to share them all, but I'll to provide a few that show how the team connected with the fans in a way that's hard to explain.

    - Season 2: At the first Red White and Blue Jackets, young Rusty Klesla was preparing for his first full year with the CBJ. He looked no more than 17 and was pretty shy when he was introduced to the party I was with. He never forgot that conversation and whenever I talked to him later, he always made light of the fact that I laughed at how he said "corn".

    - While he was a mediocre defenseman with quicksilver feet and cement hands, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre played a mean game of bubblehockey. There was a night early on (though I cant remember which season) where Hyphens closed down a bar with a few of us. Outstanding guy with a fun sense of humor.

    - The arena was ALWAYS packed, you had to miss hockey if you wanted not to wait in line for the bathroom or beer. You could never walk anywhere in the Blueline.

    - The players genuinely appreciated the fans in a way you don't usually see in pro sports. Even the ones who weren't here long; Season 1 trade deadline at the autoshow, Steve Heinze wont sign for Doug MacLean and gets traded later that day, but he still shows up for the autograph session and signs for all the fans, making jokes about the trade deadline all the while.

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  11. zekebud-
    About the jerseys. All I can say is that my first jersey was the 'new' third jersey with the star. The old ones were okay, but they just didn't call to me. I really liked those third jerseys. Also remember that for the first year, maybe two, the home team wore white in the NHL. So the white jersey was what you saw more often. The logo is a bit of a jumbled mess.

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