The 2014-15 Blue Jackets season doesn’t officially begin until October. But Friday night hundreds of their fans came to Nationwide Arena to watch the first round of the NHL Draft and connect with their hometown team at the Blue Jackets 2014 Draft Party.
"It’s an exciting time for the whole organization," said Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout. "We are welcoming in a new part of the organization and it’s a chance for the fans to get excited in the off-season and for us to have a mutual enthusiasm about where this team is headed."
The fans certainly felt that enthusiasm. Ashley Ware of Columbus was in attendance at her first Draft Party.
"It’s important for me to come out because the Blue Jackets and other fans have become a part of my family," Ware said. "And the amount of stuff to do here – it’s almost sensory overload."
People in attendance could watch the NHL Draft on the arena scoreboard. Other activities included player appearances, locker room tours, street hockey, video game stations, and game-used merchandise sales.
"It’s a fun atmosphere in general," said Shawn Prince of Hilliard. "It keeps hockey going — it’s the next big step in the off-season and gets you closer to training camp."
Friday marked Prince’s fourth consecutive Blue Jackets Draft Party.
"I started coming because we had really high picks and we could have had some franchise changing players," Prince said. "Now it’s because of our general manager (Jarmo Kekalainen) – he’s got a penchant for making some good moves so now it’s about what might happen. Now it’s very positive – much less stressful."
Ware also sees the Draft event as an opportunity to celebrate the team’s direction.
"The CBJ just keep getting better and better I’m so proud of all them," Ware said. "This entire franchise has come so far –seeing everyone turn out for (this party) is awesome."
It’s an exciting time for the whole organization
Goaltender Curtis McElhinney was one of the players at the event. He took advantage of the chance to interact with the team’s fans.
"I think it’s a good opportunity to honor the fans," McElhinney said. "This gives them a chance to come down, be at the rink, meet some of the players and see some of the new kids that are going to be coming to the organization."
Jackets forward Mark Letestu was also in attendance. He was excited to thank fans for their support.
"I always enjoy coming to these events," Letestu said. "In a community that at times has been doubted for being a hockey city, to come out and really reward people for coming is important. At the end of the day the fans are who we play for."
Ultimately, the focus of the evening was the first thirty picks of the Draft – something that fans and players alike took interest in.
"I was a fan before I was a player so I really enjoy the Draft as far as the storylines and the trades," Letestu said. "It’s a lot of fun – the booing or the cheering the fans give."
There was only cheering when the Jackets selected forward Sonny Milano of the United States National Development Plan with the 16th overall selection.
"I am super excited about the pick," Ware said. "I trust Jarmo."
Rounds 2-7 of the NHL Draft continue Saturday.
Full and partial season tickets for the Blue Jackets’ 2014-15 season are currently available for purchase. For more information you can call (800) NHLâCOLS or visit BlueJackets.com.