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Goodbye, my friends

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It’s time for me to move on

Mike MacLean, hockey fan

Hey folks, I’ll apologize in advance for the long post, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart in advance for sticking with me to the end of it.

I’ve made the difficult decision to step down from SBNation. As of July 1st I will no longer be managing the site or writing in any capacity. With an ever-increasing workload as a Project Manager for a large company, my position as President of my professional association and with two young children I am left with precious little time left, certainly not the amount of time this site and community deserves from the manager.

This site is more than a blog. It was such a massive part of my life – a creative outlet, a place to make new friends, a source of so much pleasure discussing and debating one of my most favourite things in the world – the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I take great pleasure in nostalgia, so won’t you please join me on my journey to this point as a Blue Jackets fan?

Let’s set the scene – it’s the summer of 1997 in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the NHL just announced four expansion cities – Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota and a place I’d never heard of called Columbus. I was 11, a young hockey-crazed kid who cheered for the Calgary Flames, mostly due to living in Alberta from ’89-’94 but also because of Al MacInnis, one of my dad’s favourite players, both from the island of Cape Breton.

Some buddies and I are playing street hockey, and of course they’re all either Habs or Leafs fans. I envied the passion that my buddies had for their favourite teams, wearing the easily-accessible Leafs and Habs gear that could be found at any department store and emulating their favourite player as we took over Harvard Drive. Not only was I not able to get my hands on Flames stuff easily to match my friends’ wardrobe, I was never able to actually watch the Flames play. Living in the Atlantic Time zone meant the games didn’t start until 10:00pm, well after bed time.

I’m not sure I was ever really a Flames fan anyway; I just wanted to be able to have a quick response to the second question posed after learning a new kid’s name in Canada: “What’s your favourite team?”

So we take a break from the street hockey and we’re talking about the expansion story that was in the newspaper. One of us would always have the sports section from the paper folded in our pocket, for when the Harvard Drive game would hit intermission. Being the summer, there wasn’t the usual interest in the scores and standings, we were desperate for a fresh topic of debate and adding four teams to the NHL was certainly big news. My mind immediately went to “Hey, maybe one of these teams can be my new favourite?”

Fast forward to Nashville joining the league in 1998 – I forced my fandom on the team privately, following the expansion draft and their early progress, while still claiming Flames’ fandom among the lads. I let the façade continue; eventually admitting to myself that being a Preds fan in Nova Scotia just wasn’t going to stick. I wasn’t into it. Next came Atlanta in 1999, but I never really entertained the idea of being a Thrashers fan. In the spring of 2000, after never really feeling like I had a team of my own, I made up my mind on what I was going to do about it.

Keeping in mind that the Flames were not a good club for the latter half of the ‘90s, it was a good time for me to make the proclamation to my buddies – “Guys, I’m done being a Flames fan. Expansion draft for Minnesota and that other team is coming up soon, I’m going to flip a coin between the two and the winner is going to be my team forever no matter what”.

I think I secretly wanted the Wild to win the coin flip, because they had the cool logo and the other team had the bug thing in the city I still had never heard of before.

Without much pomp and/or circumstance, I flipped the coin- an NHLPA collector coin I had received as a bonus in a pack of hockey cards. It clinked on the floor of my parent’s kitchen, Mom showing keen interest in her loving way, Dad peeking from behind the newspaper he was reading at the dining room table – my new team forever and ever had been decided, it was….the bug team.

“Shit.” I said.

“Michael!” says Mom. Cursing was a no-no at home.

I didn’t like the result. Should I re-flip to get the team with the cool logo? Or do I show integrity as a now-14-year old and stick with the bug team and fire up Encarta (yup) to find out where Columbus was?

I stuck with it. This was probably early May-ish and soon the expansion draft will happen and we’ll have real players and they’ll be my team.

I remember being on one of the library computers at school, searching for Blue Jackets’ news instead of doing whatever task I was supposed to be doing. The Blue Jackets had signed their first player – a college goalie named Greg Gardner.

Cool. It’s happening. Players are happening. This is my team.

I made a big deal about the expansion draft that year, soaking up anything and everything I could. These were the days when the internet would give you a bit of info, but you needed to buy The Hockey News magazine and scour the papers to get the full picture. The night of the expansion draft I took over the family PC and followed the picks. I remember something going wrong, something technical that didn’t allow me to follow the picks in real time. I can’t honestly remember, but I recall being completely distraught until finally I was able to see the completed expansion draft results. I was less than impressed, to say the least, as I remember thinking at the time that I liked more of Minnesota’s players. Oh well, this was my team, and I did really like Geoff Sanderson.

The first few years I would follow the team online and in the paper. If I was really lucky, the Jackets would play one game a year on Hockey Night in Canada, which as you can imagine that game was my Stanley Cup Final. I had nobody around me who could discuss the Jackets; in fact most didn’t even realize the team existed, but it didn’t matter - the Jackets went from being the bug team from the city I hadn’t heard of, to one of the most important things in my life.

I started listening to games when I could online, and I discovered HFBoards, which so many of you used to or still participate on. I became a moderator there after a while, as chatting about the team became one of my favourite hobbies. I put a lot of effort into some of my posts on HF, and on more than a few occasions some of the other CBJ fans there would tell me that I should start a blog.

In 2007 I finally did it, creating a site on blogger to cover the Jackets, mainly from a prospects angle, thanks to being able to offer regular updates on CBJ first rounder and Halifax Moosehead Jakub Voracek. Prospects have always been squarely in my wheelhouse, and my online activity drifted from HF to my new venture – The Cannon.

I figured the name was fitting given the recent addition to the arena, the play on the word canon, and the fact that I knew the site would almost always have really cool imagery as long as it was called The Cannon.

Andy Newman was one of the regulars from HF that I really got along with, and I asked him if he wanted to write with me on The Cannon. He enthusiastically accepted, and though he hasn’t actively posted on the site over the past few years, he remains a contributor-at-large. He and I had so much fun with our little site, but things really took off in the spring of 2009 when the Jackets qualified for the playoffs for the first time.

Riding the high of the team’s first playoff berth, I was approached by James Mirtle. He was recruiting for this relatively new blogging network called SBNation, and he was wondering if I’d be interested in representing the Blue Jackets on SBN. After discussing some particulars and expectations, I signed the paperwork and The Cannon as you know it was born.

From that point on, the site has seen tremendous growth. It’s become one of the largest CBJ communities out there, with dedicated contributors and readers. Obviously the site couldn’t be what it is today without the absolutely terrific volunteer contributors that spent countless hours at the keyboard over the past nine-plus years.

Clint Clark was a contributor on the blogger version of The Cannon, and spent some time as a writer when we moved to SBN. Andrew Tolliver was another one of our early contributors and I have a feeling he is a regular in the comments now, but under another handle! Clint, Andy, Andrew and I scratched and clawed our way through that first year.

The next chapter in The Cannon’s history started in April of 2010, Clint and Andrew had moved on from writing, Matt Wagner and Dan Parker would join us and I would soon add a full-time AHL writer in Lou Bordeaux. Matt, Dan, Andy, Lou and I would spend the next few years as a rock-solid team. We argued at times, but at the end of the day we had each other’s back and did some great things together. We had press creds with the Jackets and Falcons and we were pumping out a ton of content. We did a few so-so podcasts together as well, but most importantly the community was growing. We were starting to have regular readers!

Matt – thank you so much for everything over the years. I can’t thank you enough for being there when I had personal stuff on the go, or if I needed a boost. You’re kind and loyal and I’m proud to consider you a colleague.

Danno – what can I say? We were in the trenches together bud. It wasn’t easy keeping this thing going, but you always pushed us to stay current and fresh. You inspired me to keep going when things were tough those early years, and The Cannon wouldn’t be where it is now without your hard work and dedication.

Hey Lou – remember that time you wrote about Mike Commodore and it pissed him off and he called you and let you record the conversation? That was amazing audio, forever locked in The Cannon’s vaults!

We had reached critical mass and needed more writers to spread the content. There was a particular night when we were scrambling to get somebody to take the recap of a random regular season game. We put out a call to the readers for a guest post and we had a quick response – from OhioHockeyDog.

I already knew Jeff Little from the various outlets he contributed to, but I didn’t put two-and-two together to realize his handle was OhioHockeyDog. Shortly after he volunteered from the crowd to pinch-hit for us that one night, he joined our squad as a full-time contributor. From that point on he and I became quite close, and I miss our one-on-one conversations dearly.

Over the next few years that core group celebrated new jobs, birth of children, marriages, and many other terrific life accomplishments. With this, though, came far busier schedules outside of The Cannon.

The third and current chapter of The Cannon saw turnover of the contributor roster, and the changing of the AHL affiliate from Springfield to Cleveland.

Scott Tennant gave us terrific Monsters coverage right out of the gate, before handing the baton to Elaine Shircliff. Elaine has been a breath of fresh air to the site, often helping out with CBJ posts and always giving her unique voice to the Monsters.

Eric Seeds was one of my favourite readers before I asked him to be a writer. His opinion is informed and you can feel the passion in his words. His sense of humour kept us grounded, and Seeds is one of the most reliable writers in the CBJ community.

Ryan Real is my guy. I believe his genesis with The Cannon was an email, offering to provide us with GIFs for our posts. Right away I knew that Ryan could offer so much more. I pushed him to write and contribute more – I almost didn’t care if wanted to or not! Ryan stepped up in a big way for The Cannon and has enough pinch-hits to get into the baseball hall of fame.

Fletcher Keel is a unique voice for us. He single handedly took our dead Twitter account, used only for link re-posting, and turned it into an engaging and at times hilarious part of The Cannon.

Will Chase is the most recent addition to the team, and has been a solid, reliable contributor. He knows this team, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. When you read his work, you come away a better person.

My final shout-out is for the man you know as Pale Dragon. I’ve had a tough time balancing things recently, but PD was there to make sure I had everything I needed. Over the past year or so I’ve posted less and focused more on the management side of the site, and PD emerged as a rock-solid, reliable proxy for me day-to-day. I’ve endorsed him as the interim manager of The Cannon.

With this current group I know The Cannon is in good hands. Though this decision was extremely difficult and emotional for me, the timing is right. I feel no regret in stepping aside and seeing where things will go next. I’m excited to just be a fan again!

I want to thank SBNation for the wonderful opportunity to write for an audience and be a part of a community, a community that I only had at The Cannon. Thank you to my writing colleagues, past and present, and thank you to the readers, for your continued support.

Go Jackets!

-Mike