Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On open practices

Open CBJ practices allow an entirely new generation of fans to develop.
Letting the little kids in every now and then isn't THAT big of an imposition.
As I've learned (and appreciated firsthand in the preseason), the Columbus Blue Jackets have made a point of opening their practices to the public.  It is perhaps the ultimate public relations move: Those who can't afford to go to games get a chance to see their local National Hockey League heroes in person.  In addition, those of us (and I count myself now among "us") who have very young children who would not be able to make it through an entire game in a small chair have the opportunity to get exposed to hockey while being able to crawl around the stands.  As you know, I'm a big fan of open practices - and not just because Ryan Johansen gave The Dark Blue Toddler his practice stick.

Now, every coach runs his team - and their practices - in their own way.  Ken Hitchcock, and the coaches before him, apparently held most of the team's practices in the Ice Haus, the practice ice attached to Nationwide Arena.  Scott Arniel, however, likes to hold his practices on the actual Nationwide main ice.

For whatever reason, the Blue Jackets closed their Nationwide main ice practices to the public during the regular season.  I'm guessing that it's a staffing/security issue, seeing that opening the main ice to the public for practices essentially means exposing the entire arena to the public.  You really can't let people go to watch practices without letting them wander the concourses, use the restrooms, etc.  Now Arniel could have other reasons - perhaps he is installing some secret "Wild Buckeye" offense that we haven't seen yet for the Rose Bowl (oops, wrong sport). But I think it's the staffing and security issue.

Get out to a Blue Jackets practice - not only do you see the
team up close, but you learn a lot about pro hockey!
(Photo copyright 2010 by Matt Wagner)
Let's take it from the CBJ's perspective.  They opened up the main ice for visitors for an overwhelming portion of the preseason (perhaps all, I'm not certain) and - with the exception of the opening practice, with its 1,000-odd attendees - next to nobody showed up.  I'm not kidding - I never went to a practice where more than eight average people with no direct connection to the CBJ or its media outlets were present.  On more than one occasion, the DBT and I were the only two civilians in the place.  Yet, for "crowd control," the CBJ had one usher at the entrance on Nationwide Boulevard and three ushers covering the seats.  So let's call it like it is: The preseason practice approach was a lousy use of people's time and resources.  Generous to the fans, yes.  In fact, I'd say it was generous to a fault.  It was not, however, smart resource allocation for the Blue Jackets.

Yet I JUST learned that the Columbus Blue Jackets relented to the social media feedback loop and have opened all non-gameday practices - be they at the Ice Haus or the main ice, matters not - to the public commencing on Thursday, October 21.  This is an impressive gesture that fans should not take lightly.  They did not have to do this.  I honestly think it's more than they should have done...but who am I to look the gift horse in the mouth?

So let's take the Blue Jackets up on their generosity.  CBJ fans with availability need to follow the Blue Jackets Twitter feed and stay abreast of days when practice is open...and then go out and see them!  It's a lot of fun, and I've learned a great deal about the game simply by watching the team go through drills.  Not to mention seen some really great guys share the hockey love with the little kids!

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