There was a buzz around Nationwide Arena on Saturday morning.
The Blue Jackets were wrapping up their morning skate in preparation of the game against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins that evening. The buzz revolved around two roped-off parking spaces at the arena. This, in and of itself, was not eye-catching. The names attached to each space, on the other hand, were.
With one reading “reserved for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman” and the other saying “reserved for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman”, an educated guess would lead one to believe that a special announcement was on the way.
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That special announcement came during that evening’s game between Columbus and Pittsburgh.
Everyone’s attention was directed to the jumbotron, where Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson was flanked by Executive Director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, Linda Logan, and on the other side NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
“It’s my pleasure to announce that the 60th NHL All Star Game will be played in Columbus the weekend of January 24th and 25th, 2015. We’re happy to be coming and we know it’s going to be a great event”, said Bettman.
At this point, the sold out crowd of 18,634 began cheering wildly.
Columbus had previously been awarded the 2013 All Star Game. This was cancelled due to the 2012 NHL lockout. With the Winter Olympics set to take place in Sochi, Russia in 2014, no one was sure whether Columbus would get the next available All Star Game. The hotels that were needed to secure the 2013 ASG were built to facilitate the awarding of that game. That speculation ended with this announcement.
At a press conference held during the first intermission, Michael Coleman, John Davidson and Gary Bettman addressed the media. Mayor Coleman was beaming with joy and could barely contain his excitement.
“This is great”, said Coleman. “I just want to say that this is awesome. 2015. January 24th and 25th. It’s an opportunity to show off the city to the world. The best hockey players in the world will be in the great city of Columbus and people will descend upon our great city, not only to visit, but to experience our city. We’re going to roll out the red carpet and have a great time. People are going to know what the city is all about. We’re very proud of this team.”
“The Commissioner made a promise. And that promise has been kept. And, as a politician, that’s always good to hear. Promises made, promises kept. Thank you, Commissioner.”
Gary Bettman said there wasn’t a doubt that Columbus would get the All Star Game back. The only questions were logistical ones. “Was the Convention Center going to be available on the dates that we needed? Was the hotel space we needed going to be available?”
“I will say that Michael Priest (Columbus Blue Jackets President) was about as aggressive as you could be, in terms of pushing to get us to the point where we could make the announcement. We got to the point about a week ago where we said ‘okay, we’re ready to go’. Mike then said, ‘what are you doing on Saturday night?’
“As the Mayor said, we’re thrilled to be here. And frankly, to let the city of Columbus and the Blue Jackets fans as soon as possible that we were honoring the promise and that we’re excited to come. We wanted to come back as quickly as possible. We had such a good time at the Draft (Columbus hosted in 2007), we figured we would come back and do it again.”
John Davidson stepped up to say a few words before concluding the press conference. “I would like to say how happy I am for the McConnell family. This is a family that brought hockey to Columbus. I’m sure Mr. Mac is smiling (John H. McConnell, original majority owner). For the McConnell family and for the people that are involved deeply with the Blue Jackets, I’m very happy for them. This is going to be a fun time.”
Columbus will become the third consecutive first-time All-Star host city (Raleigh, 2011 and Ottawa, 2012). Bettman had said previously how impressed he was with the facilities (Nationwide Arena) and the city of Columbus during and after Columbus hosting the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.