The Columbus Blue Jackets are three games into the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Currently 1-2 in the seven-game series, the Jackets have 11 players playing in their first NHL Stanley Cup playoff series, including two rookies experiencing their first full NHL season.
While many of these young players lack Stanley Cup playoff experience, they have already experienced a high caliber of competition and are drawing upon those games for the Jackets’ playoff push.
Cam Atkinson was part of an NCAA Championship team at Boston College in 2010 and currently has two points in three playoff games including a goal in last night’s game three.
"I’ve been fortunate to be part of big games in my career," Atkinson said. "I know how to try and keep my composure, play my game and keep it simple."
Jackets forward Blake Comeau was a member of the 2004 Memorial Cup Championship team.
"One year we had a really good offensive team and then next year everyone bought into a good tight checking game and that was the year that we won," Comeau said. "This team reminds me a lot of that team–guys buy into the things that aren’t as flashy, the hard things: blocking shots, forechecking, playing physical."
Knowing how to prepare for big games, and what it takes to win big games is something that Jackets forward Matt Calvert also calls upon from his Memorial Cup experience.
"You learn from those games how to prepare yourself, be ready and that the first shift is important," Calvert said.
Calvert was drafted by the Jackets in 2008 and chose to return to the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings for a chance to play in the championship tournament. He believes the additional experience was a huge asset to his play today.
"It was a full year to be a go-to guy and put up a lot of numbers," Calvert said. "It got my confidence real high and it’s something I’ll draw on my whole career."
Calvert has certainly called upon his previous experiences. Calvert had 18 short-handed goals in the WHL and currently has one short-handed goal in the NHL playoffs. Calvert also scored the game-winner in Game Two last Saturday in Pittsburgh.
"(Calvert) played outstanding and to be rewarded with a big goal like that, I was so happy for him," said Jackets forward Nick Foligno. "That goal says a lot about the team and a lot about how (Calvert) plays."
Calvert, Atkinson, and Comeau are not the only players who bring big-game experience to the Blue Jackets roster. Among others, Jack Skille was an NCAA champion, Derek MacKenzie and the Chicago Wolves earned a Calder Cup and David Savard was a QMJHL Champion with the Mocton Wildcats.
Having found success at other levels, the young Jackets are now enjoying the learning experience the NHL playoffs bring.
"Obviously the NHL playoffs are a whole different level," Atkinson said. "It’s exciting to play and good to get our feet wet–now we know what to expect."
Previous experience aside, Comeau admits to some nervousness before his first playoff game.
"I definitely had some nerves," Comeau said. "But once things got going it just seemed like another game."
Players who came into the series without NHL playoff experience don’t worry the Jackets coaches.
"The young guys have shown the coaching staff and other players they were ready for this (level of play) the first month of the season," said Head Coach Todd Richards. "And now they are showing they are ready for the playoffs."
The Blue Jackets continue their seven game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with game four Wednesday, April 23, at Nationwide Arena. For more information, including updates on last minute ticket availability, you can visit www.bluejackets.nhl.com.