Columbus makes an appealing year-round home for Blue Jackets
MAY 09, 2014 12:43p ET
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the offseason. Players and coaches, alike, are taking time to recover from their demanding 82-game schedule and the additional rigors of six playoff games added to their 2013-14 season after the club's second post-season berth in its 13 year existence. With an international roster, that means some may take time to travel or to return to their hometown but for more than a few Jackets, going home means staying in Columbus.
"Most people come to Columbus with no expectations," said former Blue Jacket and current team ambassador and broadcaster Jody Shelley. "But they leave here with such a great impression -- the city sells itself."
Shelley first fell in love with Columbus after his first full season playing with the team. He found a city with a lot to offer including restaurants, shopping and golfing. He met his wife here and they have made Columbus their home ever since.
"It has the right amount of everything," Shelley said.
Blue Jacket forward Mark Letestu and his family spent about a year and a half in Columbus before deciding to live here year-round.
"We needed time to get acclimated with the team and the city," Letestu said. "But we fell in love (with Columbus) and wanted to make it our home."
As a young family, the Letestus loved the local neighborhoods, parks, school systems and entertainment options for their children, including COSI and the Columbus Zoo.
"It's not one of the cities that gets talked about a lot, but you get here and you realize it's a real gem," Letestu said. "This city has a tendency to surprise people."
Staying close to the Blue Jackets' facilities is another benefit that living in Columbus provides.
"It's important to train with my teammates, to be around an NHL trainer and medical staff," Letestu said.
Jackets head coach Todd Richards, who moved his family to Columbus shortly after joining the organization, is thrilled to see guys staying close to the organization through the off-season.
"There are always positive things when guys hang around together, work out together, train together," Richards said. "It's not always a solution to everything, but when you're a family -- which the players are -- the more you're together, it makes that family stronger."
Shelley also believes that, as the youngest team in the league, Jackets players staying close to their NHL home have the opportunity to soak up what the community is about and what it means to represent the city.
"One of the great things is (players who are in Columbus during the offseason) identify with what the city is about," Shelley said. "Other guys before this group haven't always gotten what's going on here, but to be around the organization and learn what this city is all about is pretty important."
Along with the culture and community, Shelley believes that central Ohio's willingness to embrace hockey and the Jackets is appealing for players.
"It says a lot about the Jackets organization when you look at how much they have grown hockey from the grass roots," Shelley said. "As a player who has made hockey my entire life, it's something I'm really proud to see here."
Richards also cites the growth of hockey as a key benefit of living in Columbus. His two sons both play -- one at a local high school and one as a member of the AAA Blue Jackets.
"We came from Minnesota, a place historically known for it's development of youth hockey, and this has been a great place for both of our boys to continue to play at a similar level," Richards said. "It says a lot about Columbus."
Staying in Columbus year-round also allows many affiliated with the Jackets to give back to the place they now call home. Letestu and his wife, Brett, consistently participate in many community service efforts, including supporting the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio.
"For us, it's about making a connection -- (serving the community) helps us feel more a part of (the city) -- you really work your way into the fabric of the community," said Letestu.
Ultimately, even with team connections and entertainment options, what is endearing players and coaches alike to central Ohio is the quality of people they meet.
"When I think about why you would live here, why you would hang your hat, it's really the people," Shelley says. "There's a mutual respect between the community and players and that really speaks to what this area is all about."
Full and partial season tickets for the Blue Jackets' 2014-15 season are currently available for purchase. For more information you can call (800) NHL-COLS or visit BlueJackets.com.