Friday, August 9, 2013

Going back to where it began - Jody Shelley

First off, let me start by saying that I am glad Jody Shelley has returned to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I have often gushed over the Tampa Bay Lightning’s incorporation of ex-player Chris Dingman into their broadcasts.  He offers insight, credibility, and a certain adorableness to the team and its broadcast crew.   So I applaud the Blue Jackets for making a player, who still considers Columbus home, part of its team once again - and putting them in a role where they will be sucessful.  Having someone with NHL experience on your broadcast staff goes a long way, too. 

Again, thanks Philly

My first impression of Jody Shelley in February 2001 was his 25 goals and 420 PIMS  with Halifax his last year in Jrs with the Mooseheads of the QMJHL.  His role in hockey had been established early in his career.  I remember that first game he played with the Jackets and knew what would ultimately happen when he stepped on the ice.  There was no doubt what he would come to this league to do, and he did it in an age where the singularly gifted pugilist was a dying breed in the NHL.

I imagine Shelley to be the inspiration for Karl in
the movie "Big Fish"
Despite those numbers in Juniors, the game of hockey was changing, even before the second lockout of my lifetime brought us the “NEW” NHL in 2005-06.  Space-heater defensemen and  Goons where slowly being phased out of the game as the new millennia began.  The sideshows that came with NHL enforcers died with the cold war, and the league didn’t have much use for players who were simply ‘a set of knuckles.’  Gone were the old days and now wveryone shot the puck hard, everyone skated fast, and everyone came to camp in shape – except Olli Jokinen.  But it wasn’t an easy road for Shelley.  He went undrafted out of Juniors and attended a Canadian university before signing a minor league contract with the Calgary Flame’s AHL affiliate.  It would be four seasons, at the age of 25, before he would get a crack at the NHL – and there was that one glorious season in the ‘Coast’ (ECHL) where he racked up 325 PMS with none other than the Johnstown Chiefs.  Now, over a decade later, where his NHL playing career began, his post-playing career will also begin.  It could not be at a more important time for the Blue Jackets.

John Davidson is the face of the Columbus Blue Jackets – and to me there is something inherently wrong with that.  JD is GREAT for the direction of this franchise, but the President of Hockey Ops is not who an NHL franchise should be using as the face of the franchise.  Davidson has already proven to be a master at engaging a fan base through grass roots programs.  At the beginning of the season  this team was stuck in the mud and JD he played an important role this season generating excitement.  The team has a star in Sergei Bobrovsky, but Bob is not exactly the best marketing tool for radio spots and TV promotions.  It’s tough for a fan base to relate to a soft spoken Russian who happens to be a goalie - they're quirky even without the language barrier.  Your front office can't be long term fixture of a marketing campaign if you ever dream about getting back to 12,000 season ticket holders.  You need a symbol, someone who can be a bastion in the community, someone who's words or exploits will appeal to a large swathe of adoring fans. 

As I wrote in an email to Greg Wyshynski prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, “Defense wins championships, offense gets you in the playoffs. Jody Shelley puts butts in the seats.”  Those of us who remember the Halcyon days of the money making Blue Jackets in the time before the Lockout of 04-05, remember how exciting it was back then.  Jody Shelley was the most popular player on the team.  With a wink and smile, as much as his hammering fists, he won the affection of the Nationwide crowd.  No twitter, no blogs, no populist tone on the website to promote a sense of belonging.  You couldn’t wait to see Jody Shelley throw down.  The arena was rocking EVERY NIGHT and the crowd electric – and there was always a buzz of anticipation when Shelley stepped on the ice.  Everybody in Columbus knew his name.  He was the only player in Blue Jackets history to come close to the fame of say, Steve Bellisarie or Mike Nugent.  Jody Shelley was the only Blue Jacket player in history who couldn’t go to dinner in Columbus without signing autographs and taking pictures most of the time.  He used his powers for good in the community.
Until this morning, there was no connection to those glory days - only musing about what has yet to come.  Nothing to remind us how much fun those games were way back when.  No link to a past where a team's alternate uniforms envoke nostalgia.  There has been no player with the organization so immediately recognizable in the days before social media told us who our heroes were.   Other teams like Chicago have turned to legends such as Tony Esposito to be an ambassador to the team - a personable link to the past.  Seizing the opportunity,  the CBJ now have Jody Shelley - not as decorated as Esposito, but certainly just as beloved.  Once more the team has turned to Jody Shelley to drum up excitement.  His home coming (although his family really never left) is well received and the clamoring adoration in social media confirms this. While Shelley won’t be dropping the gloves anymore, he is a face that is immediately recognizable to the casual fan base with $8k a year to blow on season tickets.  He is a player we all know as CBJ fans and are excited to see out in the community.  It will also be comforting to me to see/hear a NHL hockey personality on a NHL hockey broadcast in Columbus.  So while it appears he had every intention of coming back to Columbus, whether it was in a trade rumor or broadcasting rumor, I'm glad it has finally happened. 

For a time the fan base was excited to see what Shelley would do next - every youth hockey team in Columbus had some kid stomping around the ice with number 45 on their back.   Let's hope we're able to channel some of that excitement again now that Shelley is back in town.

PS - I spelled Bellisari wrong on purpose.



  1. Yeah i'll admit it....I got a kid who's never worn anything but 45. Happy Days are back!

  2. I guess I got in too late on the CBJ, for Jody Shelley is lost on me.

    But hey, Davidson appears to be making the low/no-cost, no-brainer moves (hiring Shelley, smacking down Simmons and the TSN commentators on free agent frenzy day) that will at least (re-)ingratiate the team to the community.

    If this team is ever to find their way back to profitability, getting out of their own way is a good way to start.


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