Monday, April 9, 2012

DBJ's Most Valuables for the 2011-12 CBJ season

Sorry, Scott, we'll get to you
in another post.
The season is now over, and it's time for the post-mortems.  Logic would dictate that we'd do a recap first and then jump into the awards, but that's not going to happen this year for a couple of reasons.  First, I started working on the awards about two weeks ago and haven't yet started on the recap.  Second, there will be more than one recap coming out of this blog in the spirit of offering a variety of viewpoints, and we all need time to gather our thoughts.  Ergo thus therefore, it's awards time.

In what should be a tough year to pick a "Most Valuable" - I mean, seriously, how does one offer rewards solely for on-ice performance in a season where the team you enjoy is dead last by a country mile? - I found clarity incredibly fast.  As in, faster than I found that damned bug on the Mayan Riviera.

So who deserves recognition in The Season That Should Never Be Discussed Again In Mixed Company?  Simple.

THE TRUE BELIEVERS

What do I mean by "The True Believers", you ask?  True Believers are the people who, despite the truth of the failed season right in front of their eyes, are keeping the faith with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  They refuse to accept the abject failure that this season has been and instead suggest a brighter future that we fans should embrace.  They are the Keepers of the Kool Aid, and it tastes delicious.

With no further ado, here are DBJ's four Most Valuables for the 2011-12 Columbus Blue Jackets season...our True Believers.

The Adult: Vinny Prospal


The soon-to-be ex-captain celebrating the 1,000th NHL game of
DBJ's preferred choice to succeed him, Vaclav Prospal
A free agency afterthought, picked up only after Kristian Huselius injured himself lifting weights, Prospal not only was second on the team in points (and not too far behind Rick Nash, mind you) but also provided a level of maturity and focus that I haven't sensed on the roster since...what, Sergei Fedorov was in Columbus?  (Of course, it doesn't hurt that Fedorov and Prospal each publicly called out their teammates for their less than inspired efforts, both of which were accurate at the time said criticisms were leveled.  If you haven't figured it out yet, I appreciate those who speak truth to power.)

I swear, Prospal has more fun on
the ice than any other player I've seen
As the season moved on, however, Prospal's influence on the club has grown stronger and deeper in ways that I never would have expected.  With the Hitchcock Holdovers apparently playing the same reindeer games that they've enjoyed as they chewed through four coaches in two seasons, the coaching staff turned to Prospal to serve as not just leader and assistant captain but as mentor to the team's young prospects that have been thrown into the fray.  Specifically, Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson appear to have had a heap big dose of Vinning throughout the season.  I also recall Derek Dorsett speaking glowingly about Prospal in a post-game radio interview.  Clearly, Prospal is having a positive effect on this roster simply by keeping the kids' heads on straight.

Lastly, there's the "gentleman's agreement."  Thus far, Prospal is the ONLY pending unrestricted free agent to sign a contract extension beyond the end of the season.  And his one-year deal has tentacles that go far beyond just that: He and GM Scott Howson shook on an arrangement that commits Prospal and the Blue Jackets to continuing to write one-year contracts as long as Prospal wants to keep playing, then the team will find a place for him in the hockey operations structure.  Yeah, the team likes Vinny.  A lot.

I like Vinny, too, and sincerely hope that the Blue Jackets see fit to place the "C" on his sweater next season in recognition of his unique ability to practice hard, play hard, see results on the ice and speak the truth off of it.

The Rock Star: Jack Johnson

Witness, if you will, Jack Johnson's introduction to the Columbus hockey media:



The innate skeptic in me said, "What the heck is this guy about?"  As in, is this an act?  Was he coached by someone to be the "anti-Jeff Carter"?  His act was so strong...all this "I'm a midwestern guy...I'm just happy to be here...I want to be with a team that wants me" stuff just did not strike me as real.  But it apparently was, and the Blue Jackets are infinitely better for it.

Not only did Johnson want to be a huge part of the Blue Jackets, he's more than lived up to his end of the bargain.  By the end of the season, he was pulling over 30 minutes a night and tacking on the occasional goal and/or assist while babysitting the parade of AHL callups that filled the gap left by the injury to his partner, James Wisniewski.  And in his 21 games in Columbus, Johnson had four goals and ten assists - a 54 point pace over 82 games.  Debate the stat all you want, but it's also worth noting that Johnson also piled up a +5 rating...not bad, considering he joined a franchise that has only four other players owning a positive plus/minus.

In keeping with the theme of these awards, Johnson has been relentlessly positive about the Blue Jackets.  Not only does he want to be here, he appears convinced that this team is very close to being downright dangerous in this weird, wild NHL.  His vibe appears to have been picked up by (or perhaps augments?) the locker room, which seemingly built upon his foundation of confidence...and Johnson quickly became a fan favorite.  In fact, Johnson is a serious name when discussing potential Blue Jackets captains in a post-Nash world.  (I prefer Prospal, but that's me.)

Point being, nobody on the roster has Johnson's combination of talent, quotability and optimism.  In Columbus, that makes you a rock star.  Which probably says as much about us as it does about him.

The Propagandist: Rob Mixer

In the darkest of days, we all knew
whose eggs were sunny side up
A new (at least to me) face on the CBJ public relations scene this year is Rob Mixer, who advertises himself as a "one-time All Star intern for the CBJ" and now as a writer for BlueJackets.com.  He also, until the All-Star break, wrote on his own personal blog, first known as "The Sentry" and now called "Jackets Report".  And recalling his early season comments to me, he's an Ohio University alum who really enjoyed Bobcat hockey - both watching and covering for student media.  Nothing wrong with that, not at all.

And while there's always been a hardcore fan of kool-aid drinkers out there (which were even more pronounced as the more pragmatic fans peeled off as the season wore on), Mixer raised the art to a new level in 2011-12.

When the Jackets would get shellacked - I mean destroyed - by Detroit, Vancouver, Edmonton, whomever...Mixer would offer up his BlueJackets.com recap on Twitter with something like: "Catch the recap of the hard-fought effort by the CBJ last night".  While the Jackets were getting shellacked, Mixer would latch onto the most minute of positives with observations like, "Methot kept that one in the zone on the power play...I like what I'm seeing from him".  And it was like this pretty much all season long, with a frequency that kept our heads spinning...especially on game nights!  Much like my reaction to Jack Johnson, I found myself asking, "Is this kid for real?"  Time told the story, but he never let up.  The team was trying hard if not great, the players gave him plenty to cheer about as individuals if not as a group...and then, when Todd Richards got the lame duck Jackets pointed in the right direction, Mixer was one happy camper.

Now, were those messages of joy admist the rubble of this season divorced from reality?  Not entirely.  But, to be clear, Mixer's online persona was often the mirror opposite of mine.  I saw a glass half-empty this season, and he saw it three-quarters full.  It's all how you look at things, I guess.  He has the benefit of optimism coming from youth and skill without the tempering that comes from life experience, and that's a good thing.  On the flip side, I possess far less writing skill and just a few more grey hairs than Mixer as I burned up my open-ended optimism with 1) Matt Millen and his Detroit Lions, 2) A Notre Dame football squad that hasn't meaningfully competed for a national championship in something like 20 years and 3) A pretty decent Blue Jackets franchise that has fallen straight down the NHL ladder since their one playoff appearance in 2009.  As I said, our approaches come from our perspectives.  Neither is right or wrong (unless you're deep into confirmation bias).  We're both fans, each in our own way.

It would be easy to dismiss Mixer's relentless rays of sunshine in a non-stop stormy season as that of an employee doing what his employer pays him to do, but I can't and won't insult the guy with such a claim.  There is simply way too much passion behind his words.  Mixer clearly loves his chosen sport, and I'd guess that he loves his chosen team even more.

Rob Mixer is great for the Blue Jackets and the loyal core of fans that are still carrying the tattered flag.  If you want to follow Mixer on Twitter, sign up here.

The Rabid: Arch City Army

Here's an introductory video from the end of last season:



Every game.  All game.  Never sitting.  Always cheering.

I'm only a quarter season ticket package holder in Section 223, but my buddy Chris and I often found ourselves looking over to 227 and watching those hooligans (a term used in the best possible sense) raising cain on even the most dreary of nights.  We couldn't help but appreciate their energy (Was it fueled at their pregame R Bar gathering?  Who knows?)  Even on those Tuesday nights when the arena was less than half-filled, the Arch City Army would be there.  They would be there when the puck dropped and wouldn't leave until the game was over.  They never sat.  They always cheered.

The Arch City Army was right there at CannonFest
The Arch City Army is the embodiment of passionate fanhood, and they deserve a salute precisely at this moment, when their team has hit rock bottom.

I know that some of the more sedate, "family-friendly" or "wine 'n' cheese" crowd doesn't care for this group, but I'd rather have a cheering section that sometimes tiptoes around the line of genteel behavior than to have the alternative when your team has a furnished apartment in the NHL sub-basement...a mausoleum.  This is a group that is bringing the noise (and sometimes hilarity) of the soccer experience into an NHL setting, and it's going to set Columbus apart as the group grows over time.

The team loves the Arch City Army.  The players proudly show off their scarves and mention them in post-game media scrums.  The Blue Jackets management recognizes the potency of such an active and boisterous group, and they're doing everything in their power to support the Army.  Their ticket prices are dirt cheap, and the team has been known to toss other perks at the Army as a way of saying thank you for their loyal participation in the games.  That tells me that if the Blue Jackets had their way, this group would only keep growing and growing.  And cheering louder and louder.  (And if I hear it right on Twitter, the Army's membership rolls were growing pretty much with every game.  Not bad!)

If you want to get involved with the Arch City Army, warm up your cheering pipes and check 'em out here.

All hail the Arch City Army!

4 comments:

  1. As much as I LOVE JMFJ, I agree that Vinny should get the "C", but only as long as JMFJ gets the first "A". They are two great voices in the locker room. Of course Wiz, Umby, and DD get the other "A"s. I've even heard some ppl saying they could see Brass with an "A". I could see that as well. He has been getting better on and off the ice.

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  2. Looking forward to the season recaps ...

    Concur - if Nash is traded, then Vinny gets the C for remainder of his playing days. This allows time for his message/approach to grow roots in the room, as well, as provides the heir apparent time to mature into the C - something I don't think Nash was ever given.

    One nit - didn't realize you could see into the future and know that Mixer was going to step his game up another notch next season. I know the prognostication is that he's going to get better, but knowing that he 'raised the art to a new level in 2012-13' is pretty cool.

    Carry the flag.

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    Replies
    1. Oh my - I got my seasons wrong! Apologies, and fixed.

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  3. I sat in 227 for the last game of the season. I had NO IDEA what I was in for. Those clowns are loud and, while grating in the beginning, after a few beers, it was easy to jump on board. Go Jackets!

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