If you are a hockey fanatic, you may notice the title and say, "What?? A Year in Review? We're only 34 games into the season." For the rest of us operating on the Gregorian calendar, another year is about to come to a close. So we're taking a look back at the moments and stories that defined 2014 for the franchise, the city, and the fans. The order is somewhat, though not exactly, from "least important" to "most important," but that is merely this writer's opinion. Feel free to add those I missed in the comments section or to give your general thoughts on the last 365 days as a Blue Jackets fan.
#14 - Dalton Prout's One Punch KO
On November 21st, late in overtime, Dalton Prout took a cross check to the head from Milan Lucic. The two tangled and talked before Prout threw off his gloves as Lucic lunged at him. Lucic had one glove off as well as he was grabbing ahold of the big defenseman. Prout then delivered a right-handed cross to the jaw that sent Lucic to the ice in a heap. Milan was none too happy as he tried to take a swipe after the officials intervened and also threw his remaining glove at Prout. The two tangled again a few weeks later as Lucic lunged at Prout and started throwing haymakers. But man...that one punch earned Prout a lot of Twitter love.
(Honorable mention to finally beating Pittsburgh and Chicago in the regular season this past month. Both came via the shootout, but it certainly was nice to see the boys came away with W's against those two teams)
#13 - The Marian Gaborik Experiment ends
A year prior, Jarmo and Co. made a bold move in acquiring Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers. He played out the shortened season and helped push the Jackets to the brink of the playoffs, though the team missed out thanks to a tiebreaker. He never really got going in Columbus, as his tenure with the CBJ was filled with injury issues. Ultimately, the front office decided to move the winger at the deadline as he was set to become an unrestricted free agent and he did not have a clear spot in the future with the franchise. As apparently all trades involving Columbus and L.A. go, Gaborik found his old self and helped propel the Kings to the Stanley Cup. Deja vu, indeed.
#12 - The kids are alright
Columbus has been busy the last few years stockpiling young talent. That talent took to the ice together in Traverse City and flat out dominated in the Prospects Tournament. While none of the young guys from the tournament have made an impact at the NHL level just yet, it is quite clear that the future is bright for the Blue Jackets organization.
#11 - All Star Game buzz growing
Now inside just a few weeks away from the 2015 NHL All-Star Game, the city and franchise has been humming about the things to come. Slowly but surely, details have been unveiled of plans for the weekend and fans from around the world are planning for what promises to be a weekend full of fun and excitement. Voting has been taking place for weeks, and the last few All-Star Games have featured a hometown "captain." The CBJ identity is about the team and there aren't any clear cut superstars, though the team is pushing for Nick Foligno and Sergei Bobrovsky.
The city hopes to put on the best All-Star weekend the league has ever seen. From a snow slide towering more than 30 feet down Nationwide Blvd to the public rink in McPherson Square, hockey fans should be in for a treat.
#10 - Olympic Fever
Much was made about Jack Johnson's Olympic snub, and reports surfaced that he placed some of the blame on Todd Richards (an assistant for Team USA) for not supporting him. (Side Note - Jack gets an honorable mention as the shocking report this fall detailed how the defenseman is now bankrupt)
On the positive side, the Blue Jackets had four players represent the host country of Russia - goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (who somehow split time with Semyon Varlamov), defensemen Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin, and center Artem Anisimov. The normally quiet Russians were willing to do interviews on the upcoming Olympic Games in their home country, and you could sense the pride they had. Unfortunately, the Russians lost to Finland 3-1 and missed out on the podium, but they bounced back to win the gold at the IIHF World Championships a few months later.
In addition, it was quite the scene in central Ohio on a chilly Saturday morning in February. Arena District bars (and I'm sure viewing locations around the city) were packed to capacity as fans gathered to watch Team USA defeat Russia in a shooutout. Combining the passion of hockey fans in the city with the patriotic backdrop provided for a memorable few hours. Alas, much like their Russian counterparts, the United States fell short of their ultimate goal of winning the gold.
#9 - Ryan Johansen OT winner against Phoenix
As the Jackets came down the stretch of the regular season, they were trying to claw their way into the playoffs. In Game #80 and the home finale, Ryan Johansen essentially clinched the playoff berth with an overtime winner at home (though technically they could have still missed out, it was pretty much over by that point) and put an exclamation point on his breakout season. As you can hear in this isolated audio, the "C-B-J" chant finally took hold as a crowd staple.
#8 - The Rich Peverley Game
In March, the Blue Jackets were involved in a game against the Dallas Stars that went beyond hockey. Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench at 6:34 of the first period. A scramble ensued on the Stars bench as their medical personnel took him down the tunnel and behind the curtain to revive him. Thankfully, he ended up being alright and later they discovered he has a heart condition. It was one of the scary, surreal situations in the NHL over the last year and ultimately the teams rescheduled the game.
Of course, the make up date ended up having a nice storyline. That was the game in which the Jackets punched their ticket to the postseason,
#7 - Nathan Horton
Finally, after rehabbing his shoulder from surgery, Nathan Horton made his Columbus debut in January. And scored a goal to boot. His return coincided with a franchise-record eight-game winning streak that helped spur the team to the playoffs. Horton managed 5-14-19 in 36 appearances but had to shut it down with another injury. Sadly, Horton has yet to don the union blue on the ice since then. He has a degenerative back condition and may never play professional hockey again. It's a truly heartbreaking story for one of the nicest guys in the NHL. For now, it appears his playing days are over, barring a miraculous recovery.
#6 - Goodbye, RJ.
Shortly after the season ended, R.J. Umberger requested a trade out of Columbus. For many, he was a fan favorite as he played his college hockey at Ohio State and stuck with the franchise through some of the darkest of times. Unfortunately, his game seemed to be on the decline as he was into his 30's and Todd Richards made him a healthy scratch a couple times down the stretch of the regular season. Umberger clearly was not happy and he cited differences with the coach as his reason for asking out.
Thankfully, Columbus has Finnish Wizard Jarmo at the helm as he somehow convinced Philadelphia to send Scott Hartnell to Ohio for Umby and a 4th round pick. It is a trade that the Jackets appear to have won in the short term, though Hartnell's contract length with his age is not an ideal situation long term.
#5 - The Injuries. They just won't stop.
After the New Year's Eve tilt with the Minnesota Wild, the Blue Jackets will start off the 2014-2015 season with more than 220 man games lost through the first 35 games. They are averaging an absurd SEVEN players lost per game due to injury. Only three players to this point have appeared in every game. Both goalies have been out. Broken hands and fingers seem to occur a couple times every month. Obviously the team still has a chance to make the postseason with a stellar showing in the second half of the season, but so far, 2014-2015 has been dominated by injury news. The December push, which could finish at 10-1-1 with a win on the 31st, has been nothing short of extraordinary.
#4 - The Ryan Johansen Saga
The offseason became a bit more tense than usual in central Ohio as Blue Jacket fans were introduced to some hardball negotiations. Kurt Overhardt and his client, Ryan Johansen, were intent on getting a new deal for the budding centerman and the front office for Columbus wanted a modest "bridge" deal. With the new collective bargaining agreement in place, this was an important negotiation, both for the team and RFAs to come.
The drama dominated dominated the offseason hockey talk in Columbus, and eventually became a national story as Johansen "held out" of training camp, or rather he was not invited since he did not have a contract. The two sides made very little progress over the summer and the nastiness spilled over into interviews and press conferences. Finally, just days before the regular season was to start, the two sides agreed on a three-year deal. Still, this tough contract battle could have ramifications for years to come not only with Johansen, but with other young players who will need new contracts.
#3 - The home playoff games
You know what's coming up as #1 (if you don't, well...perhaps seek some help). I'm taking the easy way out with #3 and encompassing everything else that came with home playoff games.
-The Fifth Line was born (in a Columbus sense, at least). The full banner was unveiled at Game 3. A grassroots movement was under way.
-On that note, the buzz around the city was actually about hockey and not spring football. Record TV ratings. The city had caught playoff fever.
-The Dubinsky goal to tie it up. The eventual game winner does not happen without the tying goal, which came with just 23 seconds remaining in regulation.
-The almost-comeback in Game 6. After surrendering four goals to the Pens, including an Evgeni Malkin hat trick, the Jackets stormed back in the final ten minutes with three goals of their own. The sound was deafening (I will personally never forget the wall of "Fleury" chants for a few minutes), but the hometown team could not find that last goal to tie it up. The Fifth Line sent the boys out with a thunderous, thankful applause for the thrilling series.
#2 - Calvert secures first playoff win for the franchise
After blowing a 3-1 lead in Game 1 (which was the trend for basically the entire series), the Blue Jackets flipped the script on the Pittsburgh Penguins. As most of the Fifth Line watched in bars or the comforts of their homes, the Jackets were working on erasing that all-familiar 3-1 score just a few hours to the east in Pittsburgh in Game 2. After several thrilling sequences in the first overtime, the game went to a second OT where Matt Calvert cleaned up a rebound from Cam Atkinson and put it past Fleury for the win. At long last, the CBJ finally had a playoff victory.
#1 - Game. Four. Series. Tied.
Sit down for this one. Relive the glory. Now that I'm sure you just jumped up again, sit back down.
Columbus fans finally, finally got to witness a postseason victory. In their building. It was 14 years in the making and Nick Foligno made sure to end it in the most memorable of fashions. Speakers, multiple speakers, were literally "blown out" during the series against Pittsburgh in Nationwide Arena. The sights and sounds will never be forgotten by those who were there and those who watched on television. The drama of the NHL postseason had finally arrived in Columbus.
So there you have it. 2014 storylines and moments. It's been a bit of a roller coaster, but would you have it any other way? (Ok, yes...definitely less injuries)
Sound off below and let us know what stood out to you this past year.