The Columbus Blue Jackets are winning the Stanley Cup. I know. I’m just as shocked as you are. I’ve lived in Columbus for 10 years now, and I can count on one hand the number of conversations I had about the Blue Jackets before this season. Even those primarily consisted of me asking people if the Jackets still sucked and them confirming that, yes, the Jackets still did. The franchise has never won a playoff series in its history, and since the team debuted in 2000 it has finished above .500 just four times. But those days are long gone, folks. The Jackets are going all the way this season, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.
What makes me qualified to say such things? Oh, I don’t know — maybe the fact that I have a history of successfully putting my neck out with bold proclamations about historically shitty teams winning titles. Or maybe it’s because I’ve literally never seen the Blue Jackets lose.
You read that right: During the time I’ve been a die-hard fan of the Blue Jackets, I’ve watched every single game the team has played. And all of them — 16 in a row (!!!) — have ended with the boys in blue on top. Look, I know sportswriters sometimes get a bad rap for making their writing too self-centered, so I’ll do my best to avoid that here. It’s just … I honestly think I’m single-handedly turning the Jackets into a winner.
I’ve always been fascinated by hockey. I was born and raised in Indiana, where basketball has such a dominant winter presence that I’m pretty sure there isn’t a single hockey rink in the state. Because of this, the extent of my hockey exposure growing up was Barry Melrose and his mullet cutting into SportsCenter’s basketball coverage for a few minutes at a time to speak what seemed like a foreign language. But even that was enough for me to ponder an alternate universe where I became a huge hockey fan.
There’s just something about hockey culture that calls to me. I mean, the blue lines on the ice are actually called “blue lines.” That kind of no-nonsense approach commands my respect. Meanwhile, best I can tell, being a hockey fan essentially consists of growing a beard, drinking a ton of beer, calling Sidney Crosby a hoser and/or a pussy, booing the hell out of commissioner Gary Bettman, and fighting with sports media people on Twitter because they don’t talk about hockey enough. So when Hockey Twitter’s love of Doc Emrick spilled into my timeline throughout the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, I decided to find out, once and for all, what the fuss was about. I liked what I saw, figured I should adopt a team, and ultimately decided that my local Blue Jackets made the most sense, even though they’ve been embarrassingly bad ever since they were founded in 2000.
One little problem with my fandom: I forgot to pay attention to when hockey season started. Sometime after Thanksgiving, it was brought to my attention that the Blue Jackets were about 20 games into their 2016–17 campaign, and I hadn’t seen a single game. To remedy this, I vowed to watch the next one, which turned out to be a 5–1 rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 29. The Columbus Blue Jackets have not lost since and are currently one win away from tying the record for the longest win streak in NHL history. Will they ever lose again? It’s anyone’s guess at this point.
In all seriousness, this streak has been my most bizarre experience as a sports fan by a wide margin. I wasn’t sure what would happen when I started pretending to be a hockey fan, but the smart money was on me watching one game, feigning excitement, and then forgetting to follow the team after that. Instead, the Blue Jackets are consuming all of my attention, to the point that I didn’t even care when Clemson blasted my alma mater in the College Football Playoff, since the Jackets snapped the Minnesota Wild’s 12-game win streak on the same night. I have a lucky game-day outfit that I haven’t washed in a month. I’ve gone to two games at Nationwide Arena and booed the Kings’ Jeff Carter until I was red in the face, only because everyone else was doing it. I bought an NHL video game and have played it enough to rage-quit multiple times. Most impressive, I now know what icing and offside are. Never before have I gone so quickly from “yeah, sure, I guess I’ll give this a try” to “NOTHING ELSE IN MY LIFE MATTERS” like I have with hockey, and I’m loving every second of it.
As much as I’d like to take all the credit for the Blue Jackets torching the rest of the NHL, the truth is I’m probably about 90 percent responsible. The rest of the success hinges on the fact that, against all odds, Columbus has a legitimately great hockey team. Sure, I don’t know much about hockey and have watched only 16 regular-season NHL games in my life. But I do know this: The Jackets (27–5–4), who are now listed in some Vegas sportsbooks as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, lead the NHL in points (58) and goals against per game (2.03), and are second to only the Penguins in goals scored per game (3.44). I don’t need long, slicked-back hair or a Canadian accent to know that being the best (or close to it) at winning, scoring, and not allowing the other team to score are really all that matters in any sport. But if for whatever reason there’s more to hockey than that, the Jackets having by far the best power play in the league (a 28.3 percent goal percentage!) only solidifies my belief that the NHL should proactively send the Cup to Columbus.
Could the Jackets lose another game this season and eventually even — *gulp* — get knocked out of the playoffs? I guess it’s possible. Even if either of those highly unlikely things happens, though, this win streak is something I’ll never forget. For me, true euphoria as a sports fan comes when I can’t pinpoint my favorite player on a team I cheer for, because I love them all equally. That’s the Jackets right now.
I’ve taken to making up nicknames for everyone because calling the players by their real names wouldn’t be affectionate enough. Bobby Big Dick is the brick wall we have for a goalie. (Google tells me his real name is Sergei Bobrovsky.) Cam Atkinson, a 5-foot-8 American winger who leads the team in points, reminds me so much of basketball’s Matthew Dellavedova (only way more talented) that I’ve convinced myself he’s Australian and refer to him as “that cheeky little bugger.” I honestly don’t even know the head coach’s name because I exclusively call him “Torts.” (My best guess without looking it up: Jon Tortollo.) And every time center Boone Jenner does anything of note, my buddy and I talk about how rock hard our “booners” are until everyone else in the room gets uncomfortable.
In the midst of one of the best college basketball seasons in recent memory, my attention is focused squarely on regular-season hockey, a turn of events so stunning I once would have thought it impossible. And yet here I am, not only drinking the Blue Jackets Kool-Aid, but also passing out glasses to everyone I know. Columbus has always been a city dominated by Ohio State athletics; if only for a moment, the people of central Ohio are riding the Jackets bandwagon so hard that I haven’t heard anyone say, “Wait, we have a hockey team?” for almost three weeks. It’s been a wild ride that shows no signs of letting up, and I couldn’t be happier to have picked the perfect time to jump onboard.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start persuading someone in the Blue Jackets front office to give me a day with the Cup when we win it in June.