Whichever it is, you can bet your Tyler Wright signed jersey that opening night is not just another game in an NHL team’s 82-game schedule. It affects every player, not just the young guys about to step onto the ice for their first or second opening night game.
Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky, now in his second season with the team, says it’s a given he’ll have different emotions tomorrow night when Columbus opens against the Calgary Flames. How will he feel?
“Definitely nervous,” he replied quickly. “I think it’s natural, you know you’ve got that nervous anxiety, anxiousness, but it’s always a fun night. I feel like it takes a few shifts to settle down and get into the game. I try to get out there and try to be physical right away, get a hit, take a hit, get in on the forecheck, try to get the legs moving. Once the game sort of takes over, you lose sight of those nerves.”
Let’s go tape-to-tape now to Columbus center Mark Letestu and ask him if he thinks opening night could create a few more jitters for him.
“Absolutely, I got jitters for the pre-season opener,” he said. “I think that’s just part of being a hockey player, competing. No doubt there’ll be butterflies. It’ll probably be a tough nap, but it’s a good thing. It means you still like the game, you’re still excited to play, and hopefully it’s like that for a long time for me.”
For CBJ defenseman Jack Johnson, opening night brings a twofold benefit: First of all, he loves the excitement level. Secondly, he’s just glad be playing meaningful games again, finally.
“We’re excited to get going here,” he said. “I don’t think any player enjoys playing pre-season games, but we’re excited to get going and play games that actually mean something. You know, they can make or break you in the standings. To get going and play games where there’s something on the line, that’s what everyone wants to play for. Guys are anxious to get started. We know other teams have gotten started, and guys will be amped up to go Friday.”
OK, Jack, you’re definitely excited for the curtain to rise Friday. But no nerves?
“No, this will be my seventh opening night, so I’m more just excited to get going. “Those first couple of games are exciting. Usually, you’re so excited to get going that a pre-game nap is non-existent. I don’t think it’s nerves; I think it’s more just excitement.”
Hmmm. Excitement, nerves. Semantics? A quick crossover move and we’re now sitting next to Dalton Prout, the young Columbus defenseman who joined the team about midway through last season. This will be his first NHL opening night.
“I’ve only seen home openers on TV, and I think it’ll be special to be part of it,” Prout smiled. “It’s one thing to be up and down or be part of the team halfway through the year, but to be there and get a chance to be with the team from the get go is a different feeling. It’s one I’m looking forward to, for sure.”
But will he be nervous?
“The nerves may be there the first time you hear the crowd or when the National Anthem is playing, said Prout, “but I think once puck drops, it’s all the same. Everything else is a blur and you get down to your game plan and your focus is on everything but what’s going on outside the glass.”
Derek MacKenzie believes there will be nerves tomorrow. For him, though, it’s more about beginning to prove that his team’s success in the second half last year was a sign of things to come. He’s seen enough of the struggles in Columbus, and he’s glad the bar is now set so high for this franchise.
“I think I’ll be nervous Friday,” he offered. “Rightfully so, the fans, everybody’s put a lot of pressure on us. We proved to everybody last year that we can play with the best teams in the league, and we can win on any night. Expectations are high and they should be. The fans have set the bar pretty high, as well, with the way it felt in that last game last season. I think however we can get back to that feeling is going to be the goal and the challenge.”