I hadn't planned to write anything on this day off from Columbus Blue Jackets hockey, but tonight's
|Grant Clitsome works through some post-practice|
drills while with the CBJ
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
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.