The Columbus Blue Jackets, for all of their foibles, have delivered some fantastic moments over their almost 20 years of existence. It’s easy to remember the big ones—the Tampa Bay sweep, the 16-game winning streak, the first playoff win—but there’s one night in January a handful of years ago that deserves its own moment in the spotlight.
January 23, 2014: Philadelphia Flyers at Columbus Blue Jackets
Even though this was a regular season game three weeks into the new year, it wasn’t a normal night. This was the 1,000th game in Blue Jackets history—a feat interesting enough on its own, before you add the divisional intrigue. The struggling Flyers entered the night with two wins in their last seven games, clinging to the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, had won a then-franchise record seven straight to pull within two points of the Flyers. The teams had split the first two games of the season series, a home-and-home in December before the Christmas break.
Enough pomp and excitement surrounded the game before you added one more key subplot: the goalies. In the CBJ crease, Sergei Bobrovsky would face his old team for the first time since being traded to Columbus in 2012. Bob had won a Vezina Trophy in that span, but strained his groin in early December and not yet played against his old teammmates. On the other end, CBJ fans were expecting to see former Calder Trophy-winner and one-time franchise savior Steve Mason make his first start at Nationwide Arena since he was traded the previous April. Mason beat the CBJ in that first December game, but understandably sat out the second half of the back-to-back in Columbus. This was a big divisional game for both teams, the last time Philadelphia would visit Nationwide, and an important night for the franchise as a whole. Between the 1,000th game, gunning for eight wins in a row, catching the Flyers in the standings, and players going up against their old teams...the barn was ready to blow.
The Flyers and Mason had hosted Carolina the night before, but he had started on consecutive nights earlier that season, and he was the No. 1 goalie. It was a big game. He’d probably play, right? Well, about seven hours before puck drop: Nope. Steve Mason was going to sit.
Mason, despite turning in the best rookie year in franchise history while playing through mono, always carried the probably-unfair stigma of not being the toughest between the ears. Despite stellar play throughout his career, he could never match the consistent excellence of that first season, and fans moved quickly to remind him during rough stretches. Going into that January night, his save percentage stood at .891 over the previous 18 games. It was the smart move to let Ray Emery play, but that did little to disabuse a portion of the CBJ fanbase—already predisposed to see Mason as a bit of a headcase—of the notion that Mason was simply ducking a tough environment.
The Nationwide faithful had seen this movie earlier in the season, too. Emery started (and lost) that other Philadelphia at Columbus game on December 21. Ready to cheer against their old goalie, the fans chanted “WE WANT MA-SON!” throughout the game. They didn’t get their wish in December and they wouldn’t that night in January. But the chant would return.
After days of anticipation, the puck finally dropped and Jack Johnson opened the scoring 8:20 into the first period. The Flyers tied it up early in the second and took the lead 7:21 into the frame with a power play tally.
That would be the Flyers’ final goal.
Derek MacKenzie scored at 11:24 of the second and Matt Calvert gave the CBJ lead back with a little under four minutes left before intermission. The Blue Jackets had taken Philly’s punches, shook them off and roared back. The team was good.
Then, just like December 21, the chant started. But it didn’t come start of the game, and it wasn’t fragmented. This was a chant of victory. The chant of a fanbase fully behind its team with a twist of malice. This chant, unlike almost ever other chant in franchise history, had swagger.
(Start at the 15-second mark if it doesn’t automatically play from there)
Look, is it mean to chant that you want your former goalie to enter the game so your team can score on him? With the implication because your team is good and he, conversely, sucks? Probably. But this is pro sports.
That "We Want Mason" chant makes me so happy! :') #CBJ— Cyrus Manesh is (@cmanesh_) January 24, 2014
We don’t have to rehash how bad the Blue Jackets have been for a large part of their history. Fact is, despite Bob’s individual acclaim the season before, the CBJ had only been to the playoffs once and still hadn’t won a postseason game. This was a franchise still searching for a measure of success. This night—the night of their 1,000th game, with an eighth straight win in sight and two points against a divisional foe—the Nationwide fans had a reason to feel good about themselves and their team. A reason to feel proud, and just the tiniest bit cocky.
Visiting fans and media rave about Columbus and the usually welcoming environment. Sometimes, though, the fans need embody the nasty, brutish spirit of hockey and let the opposing players have it. It can play a key role in the growth of a fanbase and a franchise taking that next step toward competitiveness. You can still like those former players, respect what they did for your team and make them stare into the middle distance while their co-workers stink it up out there.
(It also made Flyers fans really mad.)
Brandon Dubinsky scored 3:29 into the third and Nathan Horton added a beauty a few minutes later to shovel dirt on the Flyers’ coffin. The “WE WANT MASON” chant, started late in the second, continued sporadically throughout the third for the rest of the game. The Blue Jackets won, 5-2.
You may remember what happened the rest of that season. The CBJ finished fourth (one point behind Philadelphia) in the Metro and drew Pittsburgh in the first round, a series that saw the team secure its first-ever playoff win (one of a handful of Great Moments in CBJ history from that series). It took until 2019 for the Blue Jackets to win a series, but that night in January marked an important milestone in the progression of the franchise and its fans. It was a night where the Nationwide crowd dispensed with customary boos and showed it could bring an edge, too.
Steve Mason would go on to beat the Blue Jackets several times over the course of his career, but never at Nationwide. Barring some miraculous return to the NHL (he is only 31, after all), he won’t get another chance. But if he does, Nationwide will be ready. Five years later, they may still want Mason.