Columbus Blue Jackets fan Matt Pfeffer was standing in the Arena District in downtown Columbus at 5:15 a.m.Saturday morning, holding a full-size American flag.
Pfeffer wanted to be first in line at the local hockey bar, R-Bar, for the planned viewing party of the 7:30 a.m. Olympic hockey match between Team USA and Team Russia.
"We are becoming a real hockey town and we’re showing it by everything we’re doing," Pfeffer said.
Pfeffer wasn’t the only person waiting in line. Before the doors opened at 7 a.m., fans were lined up in the hundreds to get in, waiting outside in temperatures that hovered around twenty degrees.
"I got here before the game started, and I still ended up watching the entire first period from outside," said Blue Jackets fan TJ Nocar.
Mike Darr, owner of R-Bar and their partner restaurant, Three Legged Mare, which was also open for game watching, estimated there was a crowd of over 300 people in each restaurant. The turnout was even better than organizers had expected.
"There’s a lot of time between the Blue Jackets last home game (Feb. 1) and next home game, March 1," said Jim Riley, Blue Jackets Director of Marketing. "We wanted to find a way to engage our fans, and all hockey fans. We came up with this viewing party, and this has exceeded our expectations in every way."
Blue Jackets fans packed local bar, R-Bar to watch Team USA take on Team Russia. More than 300 fans packed in to watch puck drop at 7:30 AM Saturday morning.
The Blue Jackets had a lot at stake in the game. The team sent four players to the Olympics to play for Team Russia, including goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. For some, it was hard to decide for whom they should cheer.
"I’m rooting for Team USA," Nocar said. "But it’s hard to watch players score on our goalie."
It wasn’t just fans turning out to watch some international play. Former Blue Jackets Jody Shelley and Fredrik Modin were also at R-Bar. For Modin, who has won an Olympic gold medal with Team Sweden and also a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay, the event was something he didn’t want to miss.
"I didn’t know what to expect but, man, I’m glad I came down," Modin said. "It’s crazy — I can’t believe the amount of people that came."
Modin wanted to watch the game. He understands the difference in playing for one’s country in the Olympics versus playing for one’s team in the NHL.
"It’s the same game, but the tournament is so compressed," Modin said. "In the Olympics, you have one bad game, bad bounces and you’re out. In the Stanley Cup race, you get a chance to come back, because it’s a series of games. In the Olympics, one bad game can cost you the tournament."
Modin believes that small margin of error, that demand to be at your best, is what makes the Olympics special.
"You play for your country after, perhaps, one practice with players that, two nights ago, you were trying to beat up," Modin said. "It’s a fun thing to be part of — it’s great to represent your country."
Saturday’s game did not disappoint. The pressure Modin spoke of was evident as Team Russia and Team USA — both stacked with NHL players — battled back and forth for a full 60 minutes.
The game ended in regulation with a 2-2 tie. Overtime did not bring a deciding goal and the game went to an eight-round shootout. Due to a unique rule in international play, after three rounds in a shootout teams are able to send out the same players again and again. This brought St. Louis Blues player TJ Oshie out for six rounds against Bobrovsky. He scored on 4 of them, including the game winner.
While the Blue Jackets goaltender lost the game, Jackets fans were happy with the win for Team USA and the performance by their team’s players.
"When you go to that kind of shootout, it shows you how good our goaltender is," Pfeffer said. "We have to show Columbus that this is what we’re about — world class players and world class fans."
The Jackets return to play Feb. 27 in New Jersey. You can catch the action starting at 6:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Ohio. The team returns to home ice March 1 to take on the Florida Panthers in Nationwide Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m. For more information or to buy tickets visit www.bluejackets.nhl.com.