The Weekly Reader Vol. 9: Home Ice

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of The Weekly Reader’s CBJ 2009 playoff celebration.  In case you missed them, be sure to check out the previous chapters:

Part I:  Getting In
Part II:  Finishing Out
Part III:  Michigan Still Sucks

Now it’s time to remember what we Blue Jacket fans waited eight long years to experience, a home playoff game…

The Nationwide Arena ice displaying the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo during game three (Photo: NHL.com)

Part IV:  Home Ice

Far and away my crowning achievement as a CBJ fan is my attendance at the club’s very first home playoff game.  There had been many great times at Nationwide before then — and some sorry ones, too, let’s not forget — but never had there been this much on the line.  This was not an occasion to miss.  My friends John, Morgan, Sam, and I got tickets the minute they went on sale.  Those three guys are hockey mentors to me:  excellent players and fans in addition to being great friends.  The experience would be memorable as much for the camaraderie of the group as for the action on the ice.

We, of course, had to cover some major decision points in the days leading up to the game.  Where would we do our pre-game dining and drinking?  What would make for the wittiest in-arena sign?  Would the rest of us want to be seen in public with Sam wearing his Red Wings jersey?  We decided on:  the delicious craft brew of Gordon Biersch; “Know MacLean, No Playoffs;  No Maclean, Know Playoffs;” and yes, as long as he wasn’t all, you know, in our face about it.  So over a delicious meal, we toasted mugs of frothy ale and scribbled out our clever signage with posterboard and a Sharpie.  (Other submissions were deemed to be just as funny, but perhaps not “stadium appropriate” material…)

Those damn Wings really know how to harsh a guy’s buzz….am I right, folks???  Detroit would score in the opening and closing minutes of period one to build a 2-0 lead, then turn on a stifling defense to claim a 4-1 lead (highlights | summary).  RJ Umberger, scorer of the Jackets’ first playoff goal in game one, would add the team’s first-ever home playoff goal in the third.  But it was too little too late, as Columbus wouldn’t ever get closer than the 3-1 score at that point.

The fans who had entered the game bursting with excitement and the hope of a home playoff victory would leave with the dejected feeling of an 0-3 series defecit.  But fortunately the fun didn’t end there entirely.  The R-Bar was still packed and rocking after the game; and we even had the privilege of buying a beer for Kevin Schroeder, best known at Nationwide as the large fellow who paints his belly and dances shirtless on the jumbo-tron.  Sam also had the good fortune of running into his childhood hero, Steve Yzerman, upon returning to the arena to collect his coat from the lost and found.  Personally, I’m more impressed with Dancing Kev.

Dancing Kev shakes his stuff during the Blue Jackets games (Photo: Flickr.com, 614Jacketsfan)

In what was to be Columbus’ final game of the series and the 2009 season, game four was a microcosm of the Blue Jackets year:  the passion of the fans and the toughness of the team, and the coming up short in the end.

Twice during game four — both times during the second period, in fact — the Jackets would come from a two-goal deficit to tie the game.  The first time was off the stick of RJ Umberger — Do you ever find yourself wishing we had about 10 of him? — and the second was courtesy of Freddie Modin.  The game would enter the third period tied 5-5, which is how it remained for most of that nail-biting stanza.

Freddie Modin celebrates with his teammates and fans after tying game four 5-5 (Photo: NHL.com)

With barely a minute left in the game, the Jackets made the mistake that would ultimately cost them the series.  A too many men on the ice penalty led to Detroit’s Johan Franzen scoring the game-winner with 0:46 remaining, as the Red Wings claimed a 6-5 victory (highlights | summary).  In a period that epitomized the term “let them play,” the referees looked the other way and allowed the action to continue through some very physical play.  This fact was so evident that Coach Ken Hitchcock quipped after the game that he “didn’t realize we were playing Manitoba Bay rules.”  To lose such a hard-fought game on such a minute infraction was tough to swallow.

While I wasn’t able to attend that final game at Nationwide in 2009, it was, by all accounts, an amazing atmosphere.  The fans stood and cheered for the duration, almost willing the team back into the game twice.  But the effort from the crowd, like the effort from the team, wasn’t enough.

It sucks to lose.  It sucks more to lose in the playoffs.  And it sucks more to lose in the playoffs en route to being swept by the team you hate more than any other.  On the bright side, it’s a feeling we Blue Jackets fans haven’t had to endure since.