The 2015 NHL All-Star festivities shined a light on how great of...
Season Ticket Referral Night Featuring John Davidson And RJ Umberger
On Wednesday night current Columbus Blue Jackets season ticket holders brought a friend to Nationwide for “Season Ticket Referral Night”. While there fans got to look at possible seat locations, have delicious food, and sit in on a “Q&A” with RJ Umberger and John Davidson.
First up was President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson. He started out by telling us that for the Jackets the “Lifeblood are the season ticket holders”. Knowing that fact we tried to get him to tell us the date of Opening Night. Let’s just say John Davidson is a really good secret keeper.
One of Davidson’s greatest memories was the last game of the season. He said, “It wasn’t just a full house. Wasn’t just a lot of people pulling for us and having a good time. It was a full house where everyone was engaged. I firmly feel going into the third period down a goal that the fans pushed us along”.
Bob was the most surprising to Davidson this season. He made note of Bob’s professional attitude and his drive to be the best. “He loves the game and knows what he wants from it. He is very driven,” said Davidson. He also pointed out that when you don’t have a good goalie that’s all anyone talks about. With the signing of Bob that talk should die down.
Curtis McIllney will be Bob’s backup. He had an outstanding year in the AHL with Springfield. According to Davidson he is a “Big body kid, low maintenance guy.” McIllney is the kind of guy who can come in and help the team when needed.
“We are wrestling with it right now,” said Davidson who is huge fan of Prospal. They are wrestling with the fact that bringing Vinnie back at his age, giving him top minutes on the top line might throw a cloud over the younger players. It might keep the young guns from growing into top tier players that the Jackets need to produce a championship caliber team. A decision has yet to made. It’s something they are constantly talking about. Davidson reminded us, “If we do it will be for the right reasons. If we don’t it will be for the right reasons. It’s not going to be an easy decision to make”
Most would stop at Bob and the coaching staff but Davidson made a point to mention Springfield.The guys in Springfield played great. If it wasn’t for the Falcons the Blue Jackets would have been finished. Who was the Falcon that helped out the most? Davidson praised Dalton Prout saying “He’s a big horse who plays well. He’s smart, he’s tough, the whole thing”.
Comments Made On TSN :
“They are going to get a package from the chamber of commerce. I don’t know the mayor but he called. I love it because we are all together on this thing,” Davidson said, “We are living here in a very good city. We shouldn’t have to take a backseat to any other city.”
On Moving to the East:
The Jackets have their work cut out for them. On the other hand they will be home earlier at night from roadtrips. Instead of sleeping the next day they will be able to practice. Davidson believes the Jackets will make a lot of noise and people will begin to recognize what a great team they are. He also said that it will be a “Good test for us and you won’t get better unless you have good tests.”
On leaving the booth:
By the time Davidson left the booth he was worn out. During Davidson’s last year he did 156 games. By the end of the season he knew he was done. Although, if Columbus gets an outdoor game he plans to join Bob McElligot on the radio calling the game.
On Tough Times:
“When you go through tough times and you do have some success is it ever worth it because you did it the right way. You had patience, you lived it, and you did it. ”
On The Olympics:
It means a lot to the Russians players, the European players. Their families can go there. The NHL is a “Rich Multicultural league”. He believes that going to the Olympics would be the right thing.
All-star and outdoor games:
The Sochi Olympics decision is first on their plates. Davidson believes that the All-Star game will be back here sooner rather than later. “They know hockey is on the rise here. They know the city was ready for it the last time it was supposed to be here. Gary Bettman really believes in Columbus. Believes in our ownership. ” In response to questions about a future outdoor game Davidson said he wants to focus on getting the All-Star game back first.
Out of everything Davidson said, I respect him the most for giving the McConnell family credit for the dream they have for this hockey team. “They just didn’t bring the Blue Jackets in to play hockey at Nationwide and hopefully win. They want the whole community to be involved.”
Next up was Jackets Left Winger and new dad, RJ Umberger.
What he’s been up to this summer
Since the birth of his third child Umberger has been trying to find the time to sleep. Between helping take care of three kids, off ice work outs, and preparing himself mentally this summer has been jammed packed. At the end of the year, Umberger managed to take 10 days off to take care of an elbow injury. Ten days seemed very long for him. Umberger goes hard all summer. He has an upcoming vacation but will be spending 6 days a week working out.”Vacation is 1pm until the end of the night”.
Relationship between Blue Jackets and Ohio State:
Umberger thinks that there could be a little bit more of a relationship between the two. They should use each other to promote hockey in this area. He did point out that it’s difficult because they play during the same time and Ohio State tickets are cheaper. Umberger pointed out that “In this area everyone loves the Buckeyes. The more you use them to your benefit the more it will help you out”.
Raising kids to play hockey:
“Them having the love for it is the number one thing. Them wanting to play all the time is where it starts,” said Umberger, “Getting the kids on the ice, taking them to public skate. The key is getting them to learn how to skate. Get lessons. Have an instructor.”
“There’s something about the eastern conference teams that I always get excited about,” Umberger said in response to the move to the Eastern Conference. It’s a different style of hockey. The East is more open and there is more scoring. Thinks the tough style of play will transfer well because they have a lot of quick guys upfront. Nice combination of size and speed. The thing Umberger will enjoy the most is the travel. Saying that being in bed at midnight or one am is much better than being in bed the next morning.
Bringing in different management. Let go of a lot of the past. Fresh start with everybody. “Tough seeing Rick go but I think with Rick going and bringing in three guys that are very competitive and wanted to be here it was just like everything happening in the past 5-6 years were all leaving.” A lot of people didn’t know what was going on. They were excited to be here apart of the team. Not that Rick wasn’t excited to be here . Sometimes you can’t get out of old habits. It’s tough to break out “we were all really good friends but sometimes change is the best thing”
Having a captain doesn’t really matter to Umberger. There are a lot of leaders on the team but four stick out the most to Umberger.
Jack Johnson – “Doesn’t need to say much. When he does speak it carries weight”
Brandon Dubinsky – What he says and what he does matches up.
Derek Mackenzie – Mackenzie is a person people don’t talk about a lot. “He cares a lot. He says something in a team meeting and it goes a long way”
Jared Boll – “I’ve seen Jared mature in the last 12 to 18 months more than anybody on this team. He has accepted his role”. Umberger believes that “Losing for so long fired him up”.
Hockey in schools:
According to Umberger there is always a disconnect with hockey in schools. He went to a typical suburban high school in Pennsylvania and had to pay for hockey. He even enlightened us to that fact that Liberty Schools in Powell have to pay their own way. It’s not just in the urban area. It’s the fact that hockey costs to much and schools are reluctant to fund them. Like Umberger said, ” It’s up to everyone to promote hockey.”
Also, Umberger was sure to tell all of us about the “Goals and Dreams” program that the NHLPA sponsors. A player has to initiate but the program will supply youth teams full equipment to get them started.
Growing up in Pitt/Being here in Columbus:
Both places went through fast growth in such a short amount of time. Umberger told us that in the late 80s/ early 90s there were maybe five rinks in Pittsburgh. The culture changed so fast between Limieux, Crosby, and winning a few cups. Umberger’s 1st year at Ohio State was the first year the Blue Jackets were here. He’s seen incredible growth around the city. There are a lot of group programs, youth programs, and ex-Buckeye players coaching in youth programs. When Umberger was drafted he was the first kid from Pittsburgh to be drafted in the first round. Now every year kids from both Pittsburgh and Ohio are getting drafted. We are a little behind Pittsburgh but we are also 10 years younger. Bob McElligot also pointed out that “Pitt had to win Stanley cups for that culture change. Columbus didn’t have to win to spur that growth.” There’s not enough ice and Columbus has one of the largest adult hockey programs in the country.
Juggling Family life:
Umberger has three children making it both hard and challenging to juggle family life with hockey life. The most important thing is to keep the wife happy. “When she’s happy it’s a happy home,” said Umberger. So, the move to the Eastern Conference helps because he can get home sooner to help out. Umberger also stated that when the kids run to you when you get home it is the best feeling ever. “It doesn’t matter if you were negative 3 last game and everyone wants to run you out of town. You come in those kids are giving you a big hug and you realize what’s important”. Having kids put a lot of things in perspective and he’s starting to enjoy hockey more. “The kids rooting for you and everything it’s the neatest little thing”. As his girls get older he plans on bringing them to all his games so he knows where they are located.
Being a role model
It’s hard to be a role model but Umberger enjoys being able to impact peoples lives. He tries to hold himself at a professional level while trying to be himself and have fun. As a kid all he cared about was sports and athletes. Umberger even made a promise when he was little to “Make time for kids. Be outgoing towards them. Remember that’s the reason why you are playing. Kids want to be you. They want to go to games and see you.”
Coaching is something Umberger could pursue. He enjoyed it and wants to stay involved in hockey. Umberger thought coaching changed his mind a lot about the game but once the season started he slipped back into player mode. “As players you over analyze ever single moment. On the other side anything the coaches do is to make the team better. There is always a reason for it.”
My wrap up of the night ends with the Q&A right? WRONG! Not only did the fans ask some great questions they also made some fantastic comments to both Davidson and Umberger.
” I’ve been a season ticket holder since day one and I have never been more confident in the ability of leadership in this franchise to take us to the next level”
“In Detroit they throw octopi on the ice. They think through out North America we are going to be throwing corn”
“I appreciate the way you stuck up for Columbus when comments were made”
“My wife and I have a four year old and an eight year old who have turned our dining room into their own personal street hockey rink”
“Not to give you a complex or anything but you are one of our more seasoned veterans…”
Here’s something that few touch on when these events are hosted at Nationwide. The staff that worked hard to put this event on.
The kitchen staff at Nationwide is always a pleasure to deal with every time you walk into that arena. The chef made these wonderful new Buffalo Chicken Sausages. The lady who served them (I wish I caught her name) was sweet as molasses. She’s been working for the Jackets since 2007 and told me she has loved every minute of it. That everyone treats her with the utmost respect. Then there is my dear sweet Jeanette who at every function always gets me a fork so I can eat whatever sandwich they made without a bun.
Then there was Bob McElligot who talked to people as they came up to the bar to get drinks. He was very approachable and open to talking to whomever walked up to him. I had the pleasure of talking to him about how he loves the town he lives in, Nathan Horton, and the move to the East. Later on that night in the QandA we found out his son is probably going to grow up to be the next Sergei Bobrovsky.
You can’t forget about our wonderful ticket reps. Sean Tobin isn’t even my ticket rep but when I shot him an email saying I RSVPed to the wrong night he made sure to fix my mistake. I’m glad Sean did because the idea of buying season tickets is growing more and more on the person I brought. Pittsburgh native, Joe Powell, showed us around the stadium so that my guest could decide what seats would improve his hockey watching experience. After listening to him talk about tickets plans and prices I would never guess that Joe has only been with the company for two and a half months. You can tell he knows his stuff and is eager to learn. He should go far in this company. Then there is the beautiful Victoria Centers who roamed the crowd with the microphone during the Q&A session. I swear this girl has a permanent smile on her face. Last night I also had the privilege of meeting Justin Dunn. Before we left I was giving my own personal tour of Nationwide. We were standing at the top of the lower bowl looking out over the “ice” discussing the changes that are taking place in the arena. Justin walked up to us and just started chatting. We talked about Ryan Salmons, the upcoming season, and Ohio University. Get this, before working for the Blue Jackets Justin wasn’t even a fan of hockey. It’s amazing how the Blue Jackets just creep up on you and make you love them.
As you can see the players aren’t the only thing that make this organization tick. There are some great people that work for the Blue Jackets. When I bought season tickets I didn’t buy them because the team was starting to look good,to get free gas, or have a chance to meet players. I got them because of the people that work for the organization and the memories they provide.
There are still season tickets available and I urge you to at least call the Blue Jackets (614-246-0218) and listen to what they have to offer. I promise that even if this team were to place last this year you won’t regret being a season ticket holder. The Blue Jackets are a family oriented organization and that’s how they treat their fans. You aren’t just a dollar sign, you’re a part of the family.