For the love of hockey
OCT 01, 2012 8:44a ET
Alison Sestina Lukan is not a casual hockey fan. She’s the kind of fan the NHL is banking on when the lockout ends—the die hard. The passionate voice. The one who lives and breathes the ups and downs of her team: the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The club can lose…and lose…and lose…and she will still come back. Time and again. She might offer up a little constructive criticism on a joint blog called The Union Blue, but it won’t stop her from sporting her team’s colors and cheering in the stands. She loves hockey, dammit. And now she’s hoping you love it, too. Enough to get you to her hockey school on Oct. 21 at the Ice Hause attached to Nationwide Arena in Downtown Columbus.
“Ultimately the purpose is just to deepen people’s education and understanding of hockey,” said Lukan of the $20 two hour class that begins at 4 p.m. and will offer instruction from a certified hockey coach, who gives lessons at area Chiller ice rinks. On-ice instruction will include hockey drills and hockey skating tips and the class will include refreshments and a few surprises. “The pros make it look so easy. It is shocking to realize how difficult skating is.”
Lukan knows first-hand the difficulties. She got shown up by elementary-aged children in her first ever skating class at the Chiller-Dublin—she didn’t realize she registered for the 18 and under class. She quickly had a new appreciation for how easy guys like Blue Jacket Derick Brassard make skating look.
“It was very humbling,” she laughed. “It showed me just how difficult skating was and it left me wanting more.”
Currently, the classes at the Chiller are more geared towards figure skating, said Lukan, who was hungry for classes that got more into the fine-tuned details of how to skate, hockey-style.
“It’s obvious there are a unique things to skating like a hockey player that are very different than figure skating,” said Lukan, who over the last six months has recruited multiple friends to Chiller classes and has played offense and defense on an E-League team named the B-Dubs, sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings, Grandview, owner Greg May. “That’s where the idea for this hockey school stemmed from. Those are the kinds of things we want to teach. We have a lot of people in the fan base who have done some basic skating but they don’t know what the next step is to play hockey.”
The only skating requirement for the class, said Lukan, is that people can move around on the ice without holding onto the boards.
“You don’t need to be any better than that,” said Lukan, who paid for the ice time and the fees associated with the event through her own means and donations. “If we people want to bring sticks and gloves, they’re welcome to; but, it’s not required.”
Lukan is hoping most of the hockey class will want to stay after lessons and head to the Arena District to support businesses that may be hurting from the NHL lockout.
“It’s important during the lockout to give back to the city,” said Lukan, who is a regular of the Arena District hockey bar R-Bar. “If we fill the class, hopefully we’ll have money leftover to include that as part of the deal.”
The class has spots for 24 wanna-be hockey players; as of Thursday evening, 17 were already filled.
“I’m floored with the turnout,” said Lukan. “I never dreamed we would get such a great response so quickly; it’s awesome.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets front office has taken note of Lukan’s efforts. They’re making sure Stinger, as well as front office staff, will be present, among a few other surprises.
“I think that it’s really great that the Blue Jackets are recognizing the dedication of the CBJ fans in this community. I appreciate that they’re connecting with us,” said Lukan. “They’re showing us we’re valued and they’re being honest with us in saying that we, as a group, have a hard road ahead and we’re in this together.”
The club’s digital marketing manager, Marcus Stephenson, said it’s fans like Lukan who inspire them to stay connected with the fan base and make sure they’re doing everything they can to reach out and show support.
“It’s great that Alison’s put this together; of course we want to show our support,” said Stephenson. “This initiative is fantastic. It’s a very genuine thing.”
Lukan’s genuine enthusiasm for the team and her willingness to connect with other Columbus hockey fans through Twitter, Facebook and blogging, is what spurred Stepehenson to contact her earlier this year to be part of the club’s newest community initiative, the Community Leaders group.
“The program I’m rolling out here is basically an adapted program that I began at EA Sports based solely on community leaders,” said Stephenson. “I identified a group of people who were already passionate. Everything that they do about the Blue Jackets they’ve done without us talking to them. They do it for the love of the team.”
To date, the group has, well, just kept doing what they were doing before. The Columbus fan base gets together every pre-season for the annual Cannonfest, organized by Matt Wagner, writer for The Cannon at SBNation, and hosted by Greg May at his BW’s in Grandview. They also have local tweet-ups, hang out socially to watch Lukan and the B-Dubs team play E-League hockey at the various Chillers, and, well, they blog…and blog…and blog some more.
The Blue Jackets, for their part, have just, well, supported that.
“The community leaders have done a great job so far. We are not attached at the hip,” said Stephenson, adding that this isn’t meant to be some marketing initiative. It’s meant to be support of social conversations already in progress. “You’re not going to get any organization-type communication on their blogs; it will be their thoughts and their opinions.”
But, wait a second; there ARE a few perks of the job. After all, the conversation needs to be an educated one. And Stephenson has no problem utilizing the six fans selected to be community leaders for solicited input on Blue Jackets initiatives as well as making sure the bloggers have all the information they need to write with a more solid and educated footing.
“We’ve brought them in to get their thoughts on a lot of different things and they’ll talk to their communities about it,” said Stephenson, noting the six provided input on the “Join the Battle” campaign as well as a social media suite. They also helped provide information for scheduled showcases of selected games, work with the club for activities like tweet-ups and Cannonfest, and act as a direct line from the fan base to the club.
Currently, the six pack consists of Lukan (@AlisonL), Matt Wagner (@bzarcher), Ken Falk (@derdrache), Dan Edwards (@Canadan82), Mark Erickson (@RedditCBJ) and Jeff Little (@JeffLittleTHW). But once the season kicks in, Stephenson is hoping to bring more fans on board with the program.
“I’ve been taking it slow so we take it the right way. We want it to be as many people as want to do it,” said Stephenson. “There’s one goal, and it’s the only goal I’ve ever had: to provide a different outlet for fans to connect with our organization.”
When the club starts to identify new leaders, they’ll be looking for passionate fans doing their own thing and talking about the team on their social networks.
“We want to reach more people, but we don’t want to force it,” said Stephenson. “So they see this isn’t a structured group, but they’re organic and live on their own.”
The initiative has done one very important thing for the Columbus community during the current lockout: Unite them.
“Engaging the fan base is the biggest thing they can do, because we’re in a situation where there hasn’t been good news. There’s no hockey being played. So, if you can get them talking and thinking about the team and what could come next, that’s vital,” said Wagner, one of the six pack. “Because with the game being locked out it’s easy in Columbus to get drown out by OSU football and pro football. Being able to keep people’s minds thinking about hockey is just huge.”
Wagner said he’s been consistently encouraged by the club to write about the team as he always has, good or bad, through good and bad times.
“It’s not like the team is telling us what to write or to not talk about the lockout. We’re doing what we’ve always been doing,” said Wagner. “You want people to drive discussions and get people involved. Things like that, where they’re moving the discussion forward and get fans talking instead of being passive observers.”
Last season, it was the organization who seemed to be a passive observer of its fan base, who was crumbling under the weight of a losing team. That, said Wagner, is changing under Stephenson’s direction. The club, said Wagner, is showing signs of life, reaching out to its fan base and showing fans they empathize with them.
“One of the biggest complaints fans had last season as things went downhill is that the organization didn’t seem to be listening and didn’t care about what fans thought,” said Wagner. “I think there are a lot of very passionate people in the organization, but they didn’t really connect with the fans to share that. By reaching out more and getting more linked into the community they share successes and frustrations.”
Stephenson said that at the end of the day, the club wants all of those feelings and emotions to come out, because “our life blood is our fans.”
“It’s extremely important because we’re there with them. What they feel, we feel,” said Stephenson. “All we want to do is acknowledge to all of the fans that we see it, we hear it, we appreciate it and we’re doing something about it. We never want you to eel like you can’t come to us and let us know. If you’re mad we want to know why you’re mad. We don’t want the perception that we don’t want criticism or feedback.”
Lukan said reaching out to its fan base and encouraging community leaders is one step towards creating a stronger fan base and stronger connection to the organization.
“It’s the community that gets us through it and allows to not get to frustrated,” said Lukan. “Skating class reminds us of why we love the game and allows us to forget the struggle. When you have people you can connect with it makes it easier to get through the hard times.”
You can register for Lukan’s Oct. 21 hockey class here: http://www.theunionblue.com/2012/09/27/the-foundation-of-hockey-brought-to-you/
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