The Penguins-Blue Jackets series is over and I’m home, mostly having caught up on my sleep and begrudgingly having traded my skates for a lawnmower.
Just making sure you were still reading. I can’t skate. I struggle to mow.
For the last two weeks, though, skates were my thing. My first hockey assignment was a pretty darn good one: The young, hungry Blue Jackets vs. one of the NHL’s blue bloods, a Penguins team that won’t be satisfied with anything less than kissing the Stanley Cup in June.
Before two weeks ago, I knew about the Stanley Cup. And that Mario Lemieux was co-owner of the Penguins. And how to get to Pittsburgh.
I won’t say I was nervous or out of place, but one of the first things I remember is thinking how cold it was on the lower level of the arena.
I have to brush up on my French, my left hook and my rulebook, but I come away thinking the Blue Jackets showed the hockey world they’re better than most people thought. It was a wild series in which no lead was safe and nothing was predictable. I came in liking good drama and left liking good hockey.
I knew the game — to an extent. And I’d followed the Blue Jackets– to an extent. I’d covered summer press conferences, watched games on TV, followed feature articles and the standings and the playoff race. I knew the Blue Jackets hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2009, and that was simply a happy to be there four-and-out.
I knew this time was different, but I didn’t know how much different. And I knew playoff hockey was good, but I didn’t know how good. I’d watched for years, but usually just casually.
"Hey! Sports on TV!"
I became one of Pavlov’s dogs. From now on, though, I’m watching closely.
The game is fast. Plays — and games — turn in an instant. Whether it makes sense or not, the puck takes strange bounces. I didn’t need to be a hockey expert to see that Sidney Crosby in the open ice was a sight to behold, and I came to know that he didn’t have a stellar series.
In guys like Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert, I know the Blue Jackets have a nice core with plenty of room to grow. Johansen might some day be really special.
Nationwide Arena provided quite an environment. The whole city of Columbus seemed to embrace the Blue Jackets, too. The energy was real. The excitement was real. It was just really fun to be in there — in both cities — and soak it all in.
Take a second and look up Dancing Kevin. Just take my word for it.
When the Blue Jackets score in Nationwide Arena, a cannon is shot. People in the press box were covering their ears. There’s a signature song, too, some kind of upbeat tune that goes, "Oh-oh-oh-oh." It’s catchy.
I heard it three times in the third period Monday night. Two days later, I’m still singing it — even when I should be doing or listening to something else. I’ve got hockey stuck in my head, man, and that’s more than OK.