Is it really learning how to win? Is that what’s behind this young Columbus Blue Jackets’ evolution into a competitive force in the NHL’s Western Conference? Is it simply that the team is starting to know what it takes to win and has begun applying the knowledge? Not according to Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson, at least not exactly.
”Boy, I don’t know if I’ve ever bought into the learning-to-win thing,” said Johnson. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with winning all the time. I don’t know if you really have to learn to win as much as just play the right way. If you play with passion and have enough desire to win, everyone in here has enough talent and ability to make winning an everyday thing. Most of that is just a mindset. If you hate losing more than you enjoy winning, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Does Johnson’s team hate losing enough to keep this winning thing going for the Blue Jackets, who are 5-0-3 in their last eight games?
“Absolutely, this franchise has taken enough of that (losing),” he noted. “There should be a huge fire in everyone’s belly to keep winning. Just like after Saturday’s win against Detroit, you could tell everyone was real excited to get back, and that game Sunday couldn’t come soon enough. We wanted to get back after them and try to beat them again. You know, Detroit’s been a team that’s had this organization’s number for a long time, so we were really excited to stick it to ’em if we could.”
(Long-time Blue Jackets fans will probably pause here and realize the fact its team couldn’t wait to play the Detroit Red Wings again could be a benchmark in the franchise’s path to respectability and success.)
Like most players and those who have followed the team this year, Johnson believes his team has been playing the right way; the thing that was standing in the way of on-ice results was the lack of offense. To him, this team has finally gained the confidence to do what it takes to score in the NHL.
“I think guys are starting to be a little bit more patient with the puck and having more confidence,” Johnson explained. “I think that was the biggest thing in the beginning of the year, to have the confidence to make a play. Mistakes are going to happen; you need your teammates to back you up when it does happen. I think the guys now just have the confidence to make that extra play – the right play – instead of always being ultra-conservative.”
With the season just past the midway point for all NHL teams, the Blue Jackets have suddenly emerged as a playoff contender. Whether it’s learning how to win or finally gaining the confidence and swagger to make the plays that lead to winning, this team is trending in the right direction. Johnson sees it as the path to becoming a complete team.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “Obviously, the end of the year goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and you have to make the playoffs in order to do that. We’re inching our way back up into the thick of things. We had a tough stretch in the beginning of the year, but we’ve been in every game. We’ve always thought that we’ve been playing pretty well throughout the season; we just had trouble scoring some goals. As of late, that hasn’t been as much of the problem, so it’s kind of being pieced together like a complete team. We’re playing well defensively, creating offense, and it seems as though different people are chipping in every night.”
With winning comes a lot of positives in sports, not the least of which is respect and attention. For the past several days, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been garnering a lot of praise and admiration for putting together this run of success. For a franchise that hasn’t had a lot of this kind of attention, the moment isn’t lost on Johnson.
“It’s about time; it’s a long time coming,” he said. “This team has worked extremely hard, and it’s an extremely close-knit group. Usually if you see one of us, you’re going to see a bunch of us away from the rink. The guys in here definitely have the will and the desire to win. This is definitely not a rebuilding year to us in the room. Maybe to management and fans and the media it’s a rebuilding year, but I don’t think players in the room ever accept a rebuilding year, because we’re not willing to just throw away a year.”
Heck, this team won’t even throw away a shift. That’s why the confidence – and the winning – are trending upward.