NASH SCORES 'GOAL OF THE YEAR,' JACKETS IN THE HUNT
I had heard that hockey was "the greatest sport to watch live." I saw more than 30 games last year while writing for bluejackets.com, and I didn't believe it until Thursday night.
Sitting in the first row of the upper deck of Jobing.com Arena, I witnessed forward Rick Nash score perhaps the best goal in Columbus Blue Jackets history. With 24 seconds left, Nash received the puck across the blue line and deked two Phoenix Coyotes defenders four times--four!--before popping a backhanded wrister past a totally helpless goaltender. (Click above for the highlight if you haven't seen it.) After the game, the all-star Nash told reporters that he felt like "the puck was on a string," and if so, he yo-yoed it more deftly than anyone in the NHL has so far this year. Sportscenter put the play at No. 1 on its "Top Plays" and showed it constantly on Friday. Barry Melrose called it the 'goal of the year.' With the goal, Columbus took a 4-3 lead in the back-and-forth contest and won by that score when the final horn sounded 24 seconds later. Nash's highlight-reel score made me erupt to my feet, shouting and jumping around like an exuberant six year old.
Wait a second, was I really getting this excited about the Blue Jackets? About hockey?
I spent an entire season last year watching and covering an underachieving, often dismal Blue Jackets team. Because they were terrible and because I had never really warmed up to hockey, it was easy to stay unbiased. Never once did I feel like a Blue Jackets "fan," which was crucial to staying professional. Now it's official: I am a Blue Jackets fan.
When I moved to Arizona, my allegiance to all things Ohio grew stronger. I have now seen two home state teams play in the desert (1-1), and I plan to get tickets for teams' upcoming trips, as well. As far as the Blue Jackets are concerned, I realized organization gave me a huge opportunity to write for them and that I wouldn't be where I am now without that experience and their kind references. When the season started, I decided that I might as well root for them and follow them, if for no other reason than to show support for my former co-workers.
On my holiday trip home to Ohio, though, I saw two solid Jackets wins, including a very exciting near hat trick from Nikolai Zherdev. It was obvious that this Columbus team is the not butt of hockey jokes it has been for the past seven seasons. Then, the game in the desert proved that the CBJ are laden with playmakers and hard-working defensemen. The mix they have is working quite well, and hence, they are incredibly fun to watch, even for me. They certainly were Thursday.
Their "keys" to making the playoffs are the same as any team in any sport trying to get over the hump: stay healthy, continue to win most of your home games and try to break even on the road. Though they dropped a game at Dallas last night, they are 1-1 on the trip. They have been dominant at home as of late.
Following a hometown hockey team in a playoff race? Yeah, I think I'm up for it.