On an unseasonably warm Sunday in Columbus last month, as the Blue Jackets season neared its halfway point, local first responders got a taste of what its hometown club is fighting for–the Stanley Cup.
"As a special thank you to the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) and the (local) firefighters, we wanted to give them a visit with the Cup," said Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame curator and Keeper of the Cup.
The 120-year-old Stanley Cup is raised by the winning NHL club at the end of every season. The Cup represents the ultimate accomplishment for any hockey player and a visit with it is coveted by many a player and fan, alike. Particularly Columbus cops and firefighters, who have an annual hockey match-up.
"Everyone that puts on a pair of skates and picks up a stick probably has dreams of winning the Stanley Cup," said Pritchard. "The players play for it — they want to hoist it over their heads."
The Cup’s Columbus jaunt was part of a goodwill visit coordinated by the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Columbus Blue Jackets. They delivered the Cup to the FOP headquarters and Columbus Fire Station Number One to thank them for teaming with the Jackets organization to serve the community.
The FOP has partnered with the Blue Jackets Foundation in their Hats for Heroes fundraiser for years.
"We donate the money to buy the hats," said Brian Spann, treasurer for the FOP. "That way every dollar raised goes directly to the fight against pediatric cancer."
The inspiration for the program for the FOP goes back to Jody Shelley fighting on the ice.
"We had a ‘together we fight’ hat because (Shelley) was the enforcer on the ice, (police) fight the bad guys, and the Foundation was helping kids who are fighting cancer," said Spann.
Throughout the years, the Hats for Heroes partnership evolved and it’s just one more team the members of the FOP join.
"You have to be able to work as a team to be a champion and win the Stanley Cup," said Police Officer Dave Griffith. "It’s the same with what we do — from patrol to every single team we have — teamwork is essential."
Teamwork of the on- and off-ice variety was also on display when the Cup reached Fire Station One.
"It was amazing," said Pritchard. "A lot of the firemen play (hockey) and they had their jerseys on — they got a team photo with (CBJ mascot) Stinger and the Cup."
In addition to the Cup arriving at the fire station, the Blue Jackets Foundation delivered one hundred gifts purchased by Jackets players for the station’s annual Christmas toy drive.
"The toy drive has been going on for 36 years in Columbus," said Battalion Chief Sean Moore. "We’re thrilled to be working with the Jackets to make our community better."
Firefighter Dave Gerold plays with Moore on the firemen’s hockey team.
"I can relate to what the Cup means as a player and a firefighter," said Gerold. "The teamwork on the ice is the same as working as a team on the fire ground."
Throughout the afternoon, the Cup enjoyed a long parade of hockey fans waiting to look for a favorite player’s name, take their picture with the trophy, or just enjoy its presence.
"It’s tremendous to have the Cup here, unbelievable actually," said Spann. "As someone who grew up with hockey, to see it this close we’re just so appreciative of the Blue Jackets helping make this visit happen."
"This is a dream come true," said Griffith.
And while the Cup’s visit represented a "thank you" to the community, the challenge remains with the Blue Jackets to bring it back again — this time through their efforts on the ice.
"We’re building ‘brick by brick,’" said Gerold. "Hopefully, we see it here again soon."
The Blue Jackets next home game is Friday, Jan. 10, against the Carolina Hurricanes. For more information, or to buy tickets for the 7 p.m. game, visit bluejackets.nhl.com.