Young men who grow up playing hockey have one dream—to play in the National Hockey League. On day 15 of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ training camp, a smaller roster has a few hopefuls keeping their eye on the prize from a distance; but for others, the thought of making the team is a very close reality.
No matter the roadmap, Blue Jackets in all stages of their hockey career are chasing down the dream of playing on NHL ice.
“To play in the NHL is the dream and you want it to go on as long as possible,” said Jonathan Audy-Marchessault. Marchessault played one preseason game for the Blue Jackets and was assigned to the Falcons on September 19. He will be returning again on emergency recall as of yesterday.
Machessault is under contract with the Blue Jackets and played with the Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, last year. He was called up for two NHL games, where he failed to get on the scoreboard, but the experience made an impression.
“Now I know how to do things, I know the system,” said Marchessault. “Last year helped me a lot and hopefully I can build on that experience this year.”
Marchessault’s contract with the Jackets represents his first NHL deal. At 5’ 9” he must overcome a height disadvantage when playing with NHL level athletes.
“With my size, you can never be too fast so the key is always to get faster,” said Marchessault. “I worked hard this summer, 7 to 8 times a week, I’ve never been in shape like this.”
His two games in Columbus last season were exciting, but Marchessault knows that if he wants to make the big league, he’s got to be ready for the call at any time to make the best impression possible. After all, he doesn’t want to get sent back too quickly next time.
“You’re a professional hockey player – you’ve got to make what’s happening off-the-ice stay off-the-ice and be ready for your game at any time,” Marchessault said.
Defenseman David Savard came to this year’s training camp as a familiar face. Savard was drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2009. He made the club’s opening night roster last season, but after a less than impressive start, he was assigned to Springfield and only returned to the Jackets team briefly towards the end of the season, playing a total of four games.
“Moving between teams was not an ideal situation for me,” Savard said. “Last year was a tough year so I returned to basics over the off-season – I worked hard on every aspect of my game; I want to show what I can do.”
After an undeniably tough campaign throughout 2012-13, Savard was glad to be offered a one-year extension over the summer.
“Obviously when the team said they wanted me back, it made me really happy,” said Savard. “After a year like last year, you wonder ‘Am I going to be back?’ So it is a big confidence boost to know the team still has interest in you.”
Savard worked hard in the off-season. He touched base with strength and conditioning coaches throughout the summer to ensure he was on track and is now enjoying training camp without letting the stress of his roster status affect his play.
“I’m just trying to have fun and embrace the experience. When you’re having fun it shows on the ice,” Savard said.
Savard believes his calm style of play can be an asset and hopes the coaches like what they see.
“I just want to show what I can do, and then I’ll hope for the best,” said Savard.
Savard has played four pre-season games with the Jackets and remains with the team after the first round of cuts.
30-year-old goaltender Mike McKenna represents a different kind of player chasing NHL playing time. McKenna was signed by the Jackets on the first day of free agency and is expected to meet the goaltending needs in Springfield.
Having played with nine different organizations, McKenna is no stranger to many of the players in camp, nor the demands of changing teams and cities.
“When you move around, you know a lot of guys directly or through one degree of separation,” said McKenna. “My wife and I have 16 mobile bins and we’re pretty good at adult Tetris. She does her best with it.”
McKenna is also trying to help younger players.
“I try to give the younger players a calmer frame of reference,” McKenna said. “They just need to clear their mind and play the game.”
But while McKenna is expected to play in the AHL, he isn’t accepting that as the endgame for his season.
“I’m still playing the game to try to get to the NHL, not just to be a mentor,” said McKenna. “The team needs to have confidence that if something happens with the Jackets that I can come up and play.”
McKenna may just get that opportunity. Last week, backup goalie Curtis McElhinney suffered a lower body injury, which opens the door for either McKenna or Jeremy Smith to potentially be sitting on the Jackets bench opening night.
As of today, McKenna remains at training camp and awaits the opportunity to play one more game on NHL ice.
The Columbus Blue Jackets home opener against the Calgary Flames is Oct. 4. For more information or to buy tickets, visit bluejackets.nhl.com.