Jackets’ cannon part of team’s identity
A cannon isn’t something that goes on an everyday shopping list, but when the Columbus Blue Jackets decided they wanted one for Nationwide Arena, nothing was going to hold them back.
"In August of 2007, we got the message that the team wanted a cannon," said Mike Todd, who has served as the team’s in-game arena host since 2003. "It had been tossed back and forth if we should get it or not to match the Civil War theme, and eventually they decided to go ahead."
Through an Internet search, a potential vendor was found. Todd and then-director of game operations Kimberly Kershaw packed their bags and headed to meet Chris Olson, who built cannons for Civil War reenactments, in Pontoon Beach, Ill., about fifteen miles northeast of St. Louis.
"We pull up to this place, it’s out of the way, off a gravel road and there’s an older gentleman who looked like a Civil War soldier himself," Todd said. "He said, ‘Yeah, I build cannons and I’ve got one here if you want to take a look at it.’"
Sitting in the middle of Olson’s cluttered garage was a pristine 1857 Napoleon cannon replica that he had built. Todd and Kershaw looked the cannon over and thought it would be a great addition for the arena, and that was when Olson offered to fire it for them.
The cannon was wheeled outside the garage and first, Olson fired it off using only gunpowder.
"It was loud but nothing louder than anything I’d heard before," Todd said. "We thought it was impressive. Then he said, ‘You want me to try it with cannon powder now?’"
As Olson readied the cannon, local businesspeople from around Olson’s garage started to congregate outside to watch. Todd got someone else on the phone to take in what was about to happen, Blue Jackets Executive Vice President of Business Operations, Larry Hoepfner.
"(Todd and Kershaw) called me and they were really excited and said you’re not going to believe this," Hoepfner said. "They held up the phone as this thing was fired and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh are you kidding me — let’s get that and get it here now.’"
While Hoepfner could only hear how impressive the cannon was, Todd was in awe of what he saw.
"The cannon recoiled about two feet and people around were hooting and hollering," Todd said. "It was the real deal — it sounded like doom itself."
A deal was struck, the cannon was purchased and then transported to Nationwide Arena where it was put in place after being inspected by the fire marshal.
"I had people say we need to put a cannon in the arena and at first I had thought of one of the smaller cannons like you see on the sidelines of college football games," Hoepfner said. "When we got our cannon, I thought you couldn’t fire that off in the arena, but apparently you can."
The cannon doesn’t work on actual gunpowder or cannon powder anymore. To mimic an actual firing, the cannon is serviced by Ohio-based Hamburg Fireworks to replicate a blast and Black Wing Shooting Center maintains the machinery to ensure that it stays in working order.
As every game begins, and as every goal is celebrated, the cannon is fired.
"It’s a rallying cry," Todd said. "It’s the first thing that happens when the team gets announced — BOOM! — and it’s after every goal. People expect it now; it’s not a novelty. It really sets the tone."
For Jackets fans, the cannon is a symbol of the team and their local pride. During any game, you can see people getting their pictures taken with it, and it has also been featured in local parades. The cannon has become such a part of the team’s character that it is also the focus of the Blue Jackets’ third jersey design.
"It’s become an iconic part of this team — not just of the game presentation but of the arena and of the identity of the team," Hoepfner said. "I think everyone around the league knows about the cannon — it’s just become a part of who we are."
And while the cannon is becoming a recognizable symbol, the impact of the undeniably loud boom can catch people off guard, particularly fans and members of other teams. But if those folks don’t like the cannon, that’s just fine with the Blue Jackets.
"I think there are a lot of opposing players who don’t like the cannon at all," Hoepfner said. "I know a lot of the visiting broadcasters don’t like it. I’ve seen some comments in some newspapers and blogs from out of towners that say ‘the stupid cannon’ but its part of who we are and it makes us proud. We like showing it off."
The cannon is set to fire for the first time in the regular season Saturday night as the Blue Jackets take on the New York Rangers at Nationwide Arena. Pregame coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. on Fox Sports Ohio. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
Follow Alison on Twitter at @AlisonL