Picture this, it is November 26th, the Columbus Blue Jackets have started the season 15-7-2 and just came off a five game Canadian road trip. It has been 132 days since Nathan Horton has had surgery to repair his injured shoulder, just a tad over 4 months. The doctors have just informed John Davidson, Jarmo Kekalainen, and Todd Richards that Horton is ready to play his first game in a Blue Jackets sweater.
The city of Columbus is already buzzing, The Ohio State Buckeyes are 11-0 heading into The Game with that state up north. Along with the fact that the Blue Jackets have started the season so well without the help of their top offseason acquisition. Then as it comes across Twitter, the bottom line of ESPN, and Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole announce the breaking news on Fox Sports Live. Nathan Horton will be making his season debut on Wednesday, November 27th in Nationwide Arena against the Nashville Predators. The entire city loses its collective mind.
The 1,000 or so tickets that have yet to be sold for the next night’s tilt are quickly snatched up, and the Blue Jackets have sold out Horton’s debut.
It’s game-day and Coach Richards has a big decision ahead of him, where to slot Horton into the lineup? Every person reading this right now would love to be put into his situation, but the realization is, it will be a hard decision. The team is off to its best start since the 2010-2011 season, and he has the delicate task of not messing up the dynamic that has gotten the Blue Jackets to one of the top records in the Eastern Conference. Richards knows the energy on this team is starting to gel, and he needs to be careful to not upset that balance.
I’m going to revert back to my days of being a kid, oh who the hell am I kidding, I still daydream about being the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. I will pull up my coach pants and try to figure out how the lineup will look that night.
Coach Richards knows that the crowd at Nationwide Arena can get loud and give his team a boost, no matter how they come out of the dressing room. This night will be no different, and he can think of nothing better than getting the crowd rowdy early by giving them what they want. Starting the game on the the wings will be Nathan Horton and Nick Foligno, and they will be centered by Ryan Johansen. Ryan Murray and Fedor Tyutin will start on defense, and big surprise here, Sergei Bobrovsky will be between the pipes.
The second line off the bench will have wingers Marian Gaborik and R.J Umberger, centered by Brandon Dubinsky. The second defensive pairing will of consist Jack Johnson and Dalton Prout. The third line will have the familiar duo of Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert on the wings, and they will be centered by Artem Anisimov. The third and final pairing on defense will be James Wisniewski and Tim Erixon. The fourth and final offensive line will consist of Mark Letestu and Jared Boll flying around on the wings, and will be centered by Derek MacKenzie.
All of Nationwide arena holds its breath when Horton glides into the corner for the first time and finishes a check on Mike Fisher. He knocks Fisher off of his feet, and goes about chasing down the puck and you hear the collective sigh of about 18,000 fans. His shoulder has held up its first big hit, and Blue Jacket fans everywhere will keep their fingers crossed for days that it continues to hold up.
The Blue Jackets go on to dominate the game on this big night in Blue Jackets history. Nathan Horton picks up a goal and an assist, Nick Foligno scores twice, and Letestu adds another. Johansen has three assists, and Bobrovsky tallies his third shutout of the short season as Columbus shuts out Nashville 4-0 and moves to 16-7-2.
Blue Jacket fans will go home that night with smiles on their faces, their hockey team, that has been the butt of jokes for years and years is becoming a force to deal with in the NHL and everybody is starting to take notice.