Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We want the Cup. In Columbus.


I hadn't planned to write anything on this day off from Columbus Blue Jackets hockey, but tonight's Versus NBC Sports Network game featuring the Buffalo Sabres visiting the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre in the 'peg got my blood pumping.

Grant Clitsome works through some post-practice
drills while with the CBJ
First, it's great to see Claude Noel do well.  The former interim head coach (who had a winning record with an increasingly AHL roster...just saying) has the Jets in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, which means that - if the season ended today - Noel would have navigated the former Atlanta Thrashers to the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs.  More power to him.  Noel's a darned good coach and deserves all the success that he gets, regardless of small-minded snickering about how he tried to emphasize "joy" on the Blue Jackets as a reaction to the cloud of misery surrounding the club in the wake of Ken Hitchcock's early exit.

And then there's Grant Clitsome.  Clitsome was placed on waivers around the trade deadline and was picked up by Winnipeg.  It's been a sea change in environment and attitude for Grant (Was this article really that bad?), summarized by Jets Hockey Forum:
Clitsome: "The hardest thing to adjust to was having to shout at your teammates as you can't hear them with how loud the crowd is"
Which brings me to the real reason I'm writing tonight: The incredible environment in Winnipeg.

Columbus has endured a lousy season.  Crowd enthusiasm has been decreasing in direct proportion to (what I perceive as) more and more free tickets being given to sponsors, survey respondents and schoolkids just to keep rear ends in the seats.  And with one very notable exception, the Blue Jackets have given the home fans next to nothing to cheer.

So I tuned in to tonight's game expecting little more than some decent hockey and a couple looks at Claude Noel...looking thoughtful...behind the bench.  I should have expected that a game in Winnipeg, with playoff positioning on the line, would be electric.  I didn't, however, and was shocked out of my Blue Jackets-centric blasé attitude by what I saw.

The fans were rabid, and boy were they noisy!  (Clitsome wasn't kidding!)  They were riding Sabres goalie Ryan Miller mercilessly.  They erupted with each Jets goal.  I wasn't the only one to notice this; NHL "national" media started flooding tweets with awe and admiration for the Winnipeg atmosphere.  The game was really something special - playoff-meaningful hockey in a town that hasn't had NHL hockey for far too long.  It wouldn't surprise me to hear that there was partying at Portage & Main long into the night - they do that stuff up there:

Winnipeg hockey fans celebrate the pending return
of the NHL to their hometown
In so many ways, what I saw in Winnipeg resembled what I witnessed firsthand during the Blue Jackets' sole playoff drive in 2009.  Excited fans and the energized team feeding off each other, making something larger than the two parts.  It's really wonderful to see, and I'm happy that it's happening in Winnipeg for so many reasons.

At the same time, I can't help but remind Columbus fans that the nuttiness that I saw tonight in Winnipeg can - and should - be happening right here in Central Ohio.  There's no good reason why Columbus, one of America's great sports towns, can't go bananas for their National Hockey League team.  They've done it before...no reason to think that they can't do it again.

To get to that point, however, the Blue Jackets have to start winning.  In bunches.  This quiet tolerance of the CBJ's current trend from playoffs to a fired coach to a crippling double-dip slump to another fired coach to now what looks like the worst team in the NHL has to stop.  Fans have to make their voices heard.

I was on Eric Smith's (and Lori Schmidt's) Fire The Cannon podcast (episode 105, in case you care) last week, and Smith suggested that fans channel their considerable angst and anger at the betrayal of their trust by team management and players with a simple chant:

We want the Cup!

Not, "We want to compete."  Not, "Fire <insert offending party here>."  Just a simple and powerful declaration of fan intent: We want the Cup!  Again...and again...and again.  Every game from now until the end of the season.  And why not?  The team needs to hear that the fans care about what's most important in the sport.  Management needs to hear.  Ownership needs to hear.

Winning hockey begets a winning atmosphere.  It's that simple.  So go for it, Blue Jackets.  Go get the Cup. And once you do, perhaps your fans won't be green with envy while watching Winnipeg Jets games.

3 comments:

  1. We want the cup could be next year's - carry the Flag or Gotta see it live
    Id does remind everyone to get with the program
    I like it. I heard the podcast, but you are right and seeing it in print impacts you more than just hearing it.

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  2. Having lived in Columbus my entire life, I feel I am qualified to overgeneralize on this topic. And I have. Many, many times. All my friends are probably sick of me talking about how Columbus fans suck. And by suck I mean really, really suck. The only time I've seen good 'fandom' in Columbus was at the Chill games, and the Nordeck at Crew games. More often I'm shocked at how quiet the horseshoe is (and unsurprised when the television commentators mention how quiet the horseshoe is). I have been heckled and made fun of for cheering on the Columbus Horizon - by other Columbus-ites in the stands. People at Blue Jackets games will spin around in their seats and look at you like you are a intoxicated freak if you shout out "Let's Go Jackets" during a quiet time when the players might actually hear you. Little kids in Columbus are unaware that everyone is supposed to yell "CHARGE" after the organ cue. It's a sad state of affairs, but it's how it has always been, and I'm fairly sure there is no chance of changing the culture here anytime soon. Have you ever gone to an away game wearing your Jackets sweater. I did in Pittsburg a couple of times and was mercilessly tormented - that is as it should be. I guarantee no one in Columbus would dare speak to a stranger...wearing an opposing team's jersey or not. It makes for a tolerant culture...but a bore for sporting events...

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  3. I neglected to mention that I think the reason is that Columbus fans come to be entertained. They do not see themselves as part of the game. They are just there to watch something happen...not to make something happen.

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