Most of the time, you just want to yell at National Hockey League referees and linesmen, if not more.
But two linesmen and two refs walked away unscathed after a night with Columbus Blue Jackets’ female fans during the Hockey N’ Heels event Saturday before the club’s shootout win against Phoenix.
“I like the refs a little bit more now,” said Tara Fox, a first-time attendee of the third annual event that featured linesmen Jonny Murray and Derek Amell, referees Greg Kimmerly and Stephen Walkom, CBJ winger Derek Dorsett, Assistant Coach Dan Hinote, and CBJ defenseman James Wisniewski. “They were really funny.”
In fact, the black & white stand-up act nearly stole the show from Hinote, Dorsett and Wisniewski, with their candor on questions like, “What’s the difference between a linesman and referee?” or “Why can’t you cream the goalie when he goes out to play the puck?”
And for the record, said one ref, they grow up wanting to play hockey: “We don’t like referees either,” he said, drawing a laugh from the audience of 125 women, a capacity crowd in the Founders Club at Nationwide Arena. “They get in the way of winning.”
But despite their humor, it was Dorsett and Wisniewski the ladies came to see.
“I love the attitude he took when he was traded to our team,” said Fox of Wisniewski. Fox, who attended the event with her sister, Tori Fox, wore a Wiz jersey to the event. “He is extremely dedicated.”
Fox said she was surprised with tickets to the event by her fiancé, Jason Blakey. The couple attended a Blue Jackets game on one of their first dates and have been fans ever since; they’re now season ticket holders.
“It’s amazing the talent they have to play the sport, not to mention skate as well as they do,” said Fox, who had several questions to ask during her first time at Hockey N’ Heels, like which coaches specialize in what and who decides when a call goes to Toronto. “Having a better understanding for how these plays and lines are set up and why (might help me understand the game better).”
Dorsett, as the first guest speaker, got a lot of game and fight questions, like why do refs break up fights early and why does a player get thrown out of the face-off circle. Oh, and what about those visors?
Dorsett said he, as a fighter, probably wouldn’t wear one unless it was made mandatory by the league. But he didn’t mind other players wearing them…well, most of them.
“Do I mind if Cal Clutterbuck wears a visor?” he said to the audience. “Yeah.”
Hinote was a hit with his talk on the penalty kill. In fact, he got a round of applause for his work on it.
“Dan Hinote was really funny,” said Fox of Hinote’s chatting on coaching strategies and what he did on his day with the Stanley Cup (it involved a Dairy Queen … no, seriously). Hinote helped the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup win in 2001. “He and Wiz made it really personable.”
James Wisniewski, always a crowd favorite, got huge applause as the final speaker of the night. Questions put to him varied, but mostly he talked about his family, his daughter and his fashion sense. All of which were a hit with the female crowd.
“You got to know him on a more personal level. Like, I always wondered what his daughter’s name was,” said Fox. “It makes him a more likeable person when you get to know him behind the game face.”
Blue Jackets Partnership Activation Manager Becky Magaw said women want to know more than just numbers and stats when learning about hockey.
“Women see the bigger picture,” she said. “There’s a holistic interest there.”
But ultimately, the women who attended Hockey N’ Heels wanted to understand the game better, said Magaw, who co-hosted the event with Jackets Director of Communications Karen Davis, and they wanted to feel their questions were important.
“I think it’s important that women don’t feel talked down to,” said Magaw of making sure the audience knew there was no bad question. They even offered the opportunity to ask their questions pre-event on the registration form. “I think it’s important for us to really set the stage and have an event where everyone feels comfortable regardless of where their knowledge is.”
Throw in some drinks and hors d’oeuvres and the ladies of Columbus had a stellar night out learning about hockey as well as a $100 gift card to spend at Meyers Jewelers.
“I think it’s great that they cater to the ladies and make sure those fans are taken care of. You can’t go wrong with wine,” said Fox, who admitted she wasn’t necessarily a “girly-girl” and would have come without all the extras to have a chance at seeing her favorite player and understanding the game better. Still, she said, “I would absolutely attend again.”
First-timer Jennifer Early said she’d come back, too, though she’d like a primer in 2014.
“It wasn’t as basic as I thought it would be,” said the single mother of two boys who’s been a sports fan all her life. “Maybe next year the first person to speak gives some basics. Maybe a little bit of line changes, maybe some penalties. Then let the rest of the speakers, the questions, expand on that.”
Magaw said they’re looking into that for next year. It’s always a tricky balance to have programming that benefits both long-time fans of hockey and newer fans.
“Overall, we got a lot of good feedback,” said Magaw. “For me, personally, growing up in Canada, it’s exciting to share my passion and my knowledge with the women of Columbus. It’s such a great sport.”
You can watch the Blue Jackets take on the Nashville Predators 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena or on Fox Sports Ohio.