Richards: ‘Blue Jackets hockey’ already in Hartnell
He has been playing "Blue Jackets hockey" for longer than the team has had that identity. His gritty style of play interweaves itself like a fine mesh into the fabric of what it means to wear the Union Blue.
After forward Scott Hartnell was traded to Columbus from Philadelphia for R.J. Umberger in late June, the organization and players knew what kind of player they were getting. That he would fit in, there was no doubt. He has that veteran savvy that can lighten the mood or be very serious, depending on the situation.
"He’s a character guy that’s going to show up every night and play the exact same way", said defenseman James Wisniewski. "That’s the kind of team that we’re trying to build here. Its guys that want to be here, stick up for each other, play for each other and win hockey games. He fits that mold perfectly."
Whether it’s his crunching checks on the ice or his philanthropy off of it, Hartnell is a guy you want on your team. He’s one of the elder statesmen on the youngest team in the NHL and "walks the talk." He put up 20-32-52 for the Flyers last year in 78 games.
"Everyone in this room knew what we were getting when we traded for him," said long-time Columbus forward Jared Boll, "and what kind of player he is."
In the game Saturday against the New York Rangers, Lee Stempniak laid a big hit on Artem Anisimov, for which he went to the penalty box. Shortly after returning to the ice, Stempniak came around behind the Columbus goal only to meet Hartnell face-to face.
The result of this meeting was Stempniak flying backward, looking up in confusion. And the wall that he hit? If you guessed Scott Hartnell, you would be correct. The crowd roared its approval. By doing this, he let the Ranger player know that hitting a Blue Jacket in the way he hit Anisimov was a no-no.
"We know what Scott is," said center Mark Letestu. "I think it was one of the biggest plays of the game. It was a statement that we weren’t going to be pushed around and Scott took that upon himself. But, he didn’t need to do that to prove himself to us."
"I think it shows to the fans what kind of teammate he is. Stuff like that doesn’t go unnoticed by him and he’s not going to take it. We all got behind him on that one."
Through the first three games of the season, Hartnell is 0-3-3 (-3) with eight shots. He hasn’t really got his scoring going yet, but he does make the effort to go to the dirty area in front of the crease. He’s meshing well with line-mates Artem Anisimov and rookie Alex Wennberg, too.
"I think that ‘Blue Jackets hockey’ is already in him," said head coach Todd Richards. "It’s his style and how he plays. I think that hit on Stempniak basically told the guys ‘I’m part of this group now.’ That’s really what it did for me.
"He told Stempniak and the rest of the team that ‘I’m a Blue Jacket and I got their back.’"
He’s averaging 17:07 time on ice and working the power play with Anisimov and Wennberg. Not afraid to use his body, he’s credited with five hits over that three-game span. In other words, he’s taken to being a Blue Jacket like a duck to water.
"This team has an identity," said Hartnell, "which I don’t think they had in years past. It’s hard, in your face, fast hockey. I think you’ve seen that when we play that way, we’re a dominant hockey team.
"I think we have a special group in here. Every time you put on that jersey for a game, and it’s only been a couple of games for me, it’s pretty special."
Hartnell is 32 years old and plays on the youngest team in the NHL. He’s the veteran that can lighten the mood when needed, yet also has the respect of all of the guys. He’s been around the block and likes the potential of his team. He’s not surprised at how close-knit the guys are, despite their young age.
"I knew they were a young group," he said. "There’s a lot of guys hanging out after practices and watching football together on Sundays. Those little things go a long way. Me being the new guy and being a part of that, those things outside of the rink, that’s when you come together as a hockey team.
"Everyone in this room, from the players to the coaching staff, believes in this group. We’re missing some key players right now, so we have to keep our heads above water, play hard and get some wins."
He’s signed through the 2018-19 season and wants to help this team reach the pinnacle of winning the Stanley Cup. There is no questioning his drive and determination. If successful, the going bet is that there will be many curly haired wigs in the stands of a playoff run as Hartnell cements himself within the Blue Jacket faithful.