Blue Jackets focus on growing, educating female fan base

“Girls understand the game of hockey just as much as the guys.”

That’s

what Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nathan Horton believes–and what the

organization sought to support Saturday night at the third annual

Hockey ‘n’ Heels.

“With

all the conversations and information, this is a lot better than being

in an autograph line,” said Blue Jacket season ticket holder Vanessa

Garvin.

“Hockey ‘n’

Heels” was held prior to the Dec. 15 game versus the St. Louis Blues.

Over 100 women — and a handful of men — showed up to spend a few hours

with guests who represented all facets of the game.

“I

really like hearing the perspective of the front office, players and

officials,” said Garvin. “I can collect info from Internet and other

places, but hearing from the real source is a great

experience.”

Jackets

General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen was the event’s first guest speaker. He

knows hockey is a sport both men and women support.

“Getting

more women engaged with hockey and helping them understand the whole

picture helps the entire sport,” Kekalainen said.

Kekalainen

has two daughters, and while they haven’t yet expressed interest in

playing hockey they love to watch it. Kekalainen looks forward to

encouraging them towards any sport that might interest them. That’s the

same approach he brought to Saturday’s event.

“(This

event) is not just about getting people in the stands,” Kekalainen

said. “There are lots of ways for women to get engaged with hockey –

it’s women who want to play, mothers whose children play hockey and

women who follow the sport.”

In

addition to hearing from Kekalainen, the event brought in former Jacket

and current Team Ambassador Jody Shelley, Assistant Coach Dan Hinote,

officials for the evening’s game and Jackets’ forward, Nathan

Horton.

The attendees

included people of all hockey knowledge levels, including Kathy Carson

from Newark, who was ready to see her first professional hockey

game.

“My friend said it would be a great time and I wanted to learn more about hockey,” Carson said.

Carson

works with a number of hockey fans and she wanted to finally be able to

join in the conversation about the sport. Saturday’s event gave her the

opportunity to ask a question about the Jackets’ AHL team, the

Springfield Falcons.

“I

think it’s great the Jackets hold this event specifically for women,”

Carson said. “It shows a lot of respect and consideration and I think

it’s awesome.”

Veteran

attendees agreed. Jessica Jones is a season ticket holder who came to

love hockey when the Jackets were established in 2000. She was attending

her second Hockey ‘n’ Heels event this year.

“Every

year we learn something new,” Jones said. “Even though we’ve been

coming to games for 10+ years, every Hockey ‘n’ Heels we learn something

different.”

Jones is

someone who not only enjoys the event, she’s been encouraging other

women to come — some of whom now hold ticket packages for Jackets

games.

“I think it’s

really important to get women in the stands,” Jones said. “Hockey isn’t

just a man’s sport. This helps break that

stereotype.”

Questions

throughout the evening ranged from hockey basics to more advanced topics

including everything from who is the biggest prankster on the roster to

how to practice, Jackets’ conditioning plans and the impact of the

upcoming Olympics on NHL teams.

Garvin,

who also plays adult league hockey, was enthusiastic about the

spotlight the event puts on the female fan

community.

“I’ve never

thought the Jackets did not have a female fan base,” Garvin said. “The

Jackets know women are involved in the sport of hockey, otherwise there

wouldn’t be so many here tonight.”

Attendees

took home a goodie bag that included an event themed mug, a Meyers

Jewelers gift certificate as well as a ticket to Saturday’s game. But

the intangible takeaways were perhaps more

significant.

“Because

this event is for women, it builds a really supportive environment,”

Garvin said. “People can ask all kinds of questions without

judgment.”

See the Blue

Jackets in action tonight against the Winnipeg Jets at 7 p.m. For more

information or to buy tickets, visit

bluejackets.nhl.com.