As we celebrate America’s independence today, I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate the strong American presence within the roster and staff of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As our own Dan P. wrote about in 2014, much of the current Jackets identity can be credited to the influence of former Blue Jackets adviser (and 1980 US Men’s Olympic team assistant coach) Craig Patrick. Americans Jack Johnson, Nick Foligno, and Brandon Dubinsky immediately earned leadership roles and led by example on the ice with gritty, two-way play.
Patrick has moved on, but there are still Americans in charge. Head coach John Tortorella has always been outspoken about his love of country, and his son currently serves in the US military. Tortorella is the winningest American-born coach in NHL history, with 575 wins and counting (but he’s just 4 ahead of Peter Laviolette for that honor). Torts coached Team USA in the 2008 World Championship as well as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (where he chose Dubinsky and Johnson for his roster).
Assistant GM Bill Zito, who also serves as GM of the Cleveland Monsters, recently served as GM of Team USA for the most recent World Championships, where the Americans won the bronze medal.
As for the roster, in 2017-18 the Blue Jackets had the sixth highest number of American-born players in the league (according to rosters at Hockey-Reference), and one of only 5 teams with more Americans than Canadians:
NHL Rosters by Nationality
Any review of Americans on the Columbus roster must begin with the pair of Yanks that lead the defense, and are one of the best pairs in the league despite both being under the age of 24. Despite sounding Canadian, Seth Jones was born in Texas and grew up playing hockey in Denver and then Dallas while his father played in the NBA. He twice won a gold medal in the U18 World Championships, and once in the World Junior Championships, in 2013.
His partner, Zach Werenski, hails from Michigan. He won a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2016 World Juniors, and earned Top Defenseman honors. If NHL players compete in the next Winter Olympics, expect this pair to lead the way.
The team that Bill Zito assembled for this year’s World Championship featured two Blue Jackets: Sonny Milano and Cam Atkinson. Milano - a Long Island native - won gold at the 2018 U18 World Championship, won bronze on 2016 WJC team, and earned one goal and one assist in 8 games at this year’s tournament. Atkinson, from Connecticut, scored 7 goals and 4 assists in 10 games at the event and was named as one of the top 3 players on Team USA.
I wrote above that Brandon Dubinsky was part of the identity change for the Blue Jackets. The Alaskan has suited up three times for Team USA. While he only tallied one assist in two games in the 2016 World Cup, he scored 6 goals and 7 assists in 10 games combined between the 2008 and 2010 World Championships, both while a member of the New York Rangers.
Captain Nick Foligno, meanwhile, deserves special credit for his, uh, Americanness (Americanitude? Americanity?). His parents are Canadian but he was born in Buffalo while his father played for the Sabres. He spent much of his childhood in Ontario, but as a dual national had the choice of which country to play for. He chose Team USA, while his younger brother Marcus chose Canada. Fligs played for the USA development teams, and has played in three World Championships, most recently in 2016. He has not medalled, but has 6 goals and 4 assists in 25 games.
This year, we’ve lost three Americans in Jack Johnson, Ian Cole, and Tyler Motte. But we recently signed Tommy Cross (Connecticut) and Adam Clendening (New York). Also signed this spring was Eric Robinson, a native of New Jersey who played at Princeton. Another American of note is Kole Sherwood: not just American, and not just Ohioan, but a Central Ohioan from New Albany. It is possible that he will suit up for the Blue Jackets in a regular season game this year, if only for a cup of coffee. That would make him the first Columbus product to play for the Blue Jackets. Won’t that be cool?
Happy Fourth of July from all of your friends here at The Cannon!