Jackets credit recent success to relationship with minor leagues

BY foxsports • September 20, 2013

Much has been written and said about the Columbus Blue Jackets late season run in 2013, going 19-5-5 down the stretch. It was a testament to the fortitude of the club. A large part of that stretch run was helped along with players that were called up from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.

To say that both clubs were, and are, on the same “sheet of music” would be an understatement. The transition for players that were called up was virtually seamless. Players such as Dalton Prout, David Savard, Cody Goloubef and more, made an impact by fitting in from the moment they stepped on the ice. The philosophy and culture of both teams is highly intertwined. 

Blue Jackets Assistant GM Chris MacFarland, who oversees hockey operations for Springfield, expounds on this theme.

“It’s absolutely organizational”, he said. “Our amateur scouts, who are out finding these draft picks that we sign. It’s our pro scouts, our NHL coaches and AHL coaches. It’s Chris Clark (Blue Jackets Development Coach), who works with these kids from the time that they’re drafted. The success goes to everybody in the organization.”

With training camp set to start for the Falcons on Monday, 17 players were reassigned from the Blue Jackets on Thursday to Springfield. Among those sent down was center Johnathan Audy-Marchessault. He was called up for 2 games for Columbus last season and tallied 21-46-67 in 74 games for the Falcons. He has improved his game and hopes to be called up once again. 

“Down there (Springfield), we’re playing the same system as here (Columbus)”, said Marchessault. “I think it makes it easier for the guys that are getting called up. You saw when Cam (Atkinson), (Matt) Calvert and all those guys came up that they did really good here. Down there, they’re preparing guys for the NHL level. Hopefully, I can jump into that group.”

“Last year, I was only here for five days and played two games”, he said. “Obviously, it gives you more experience. So, I think it was a good thing that I came up last year. I know the environment and I know everybody a little bit better now.”

Call-ups and being sent down are a fact of life in the NHL, whether due to injuries sustained or unforeseen circumstances. Having a strong relationship with your AHL affiliate is paramount to being successful. Columbus has ushered in the “Brick-by-Brick” era under President of Hockey Operations John Davidson. This philosophy permeates the organization from top to bottom. Stability also plays a large role in success.

“Our coaches there (Springfield) have been there for a few years”, said MacFarland. “The players that were called-up weren’t first-year pros. It’s part of the maturation process and they had been playing for three or four months (during NHL lockout), which certainly helped them.”

He goes on, “You have to give them credit. Everyone who stepped in last year seemed to contribute, whether that was a fourth line role or top-four minutes on the back end. I thought they did a good job, so you have to give them credit for that. You also have to give credit to our coaches in Springfield (led by head coach Brad Larsen) and in Columbus. Development Coach Chris Clark, too, did a heck of a job.”

The cultural shift was welcomed in Columbus and it has worked its way throughout the organization at a rather fast pace. Chris MacFarland has seen this pervade Springfield, too.

“I think it permeates everything”, he said. “From Columbus to Springfield, to our unsigned draft choices playing in juniors, they are all potential important parts for what we’re trying to do. I absolutely think it permeates right on down through every player that’s signed with us, whether that’s NHL or AHL.”

The success of the players called-up to Columbus was built on a foundation of success in Springfield. The Falcons finished the 2012-2013 season 1st in the Northeast, before bowing out of the playoffs in the 2nd round. One of the goaltenders hoping to backstop another successful season for the Falcons is Mike McKenna. Most recently with the St. Louis Blues organization, he is currently on a one-year, two-way contract with the Blue Jackets. He has seen, first-hand, the integration of the “Brick-by-Brick” philosophy.

“Coming from the outside-in, from a different organization last year,” McKenna said, “It seems like they’re really emphasizing integrating Springfield and Columbus. You can see it from the number of guys that have been up and down that it’s a real easy transition. It helps when you’re coming from a successful organization in the American League up to here (Columbus). And, they had a real good year in Springfield last year.”

“I’ve really been impressed with how the organization has handled everything”, he said. “Even just the little details, we’re prepared to play on the ice and have gone over our systems. We’ve done everything that we need to, but it’s the little things such as how professional the equipment guys have been. Those little things go a long way in creating a successful culture around here. It’s been really positive.”

The players that have been sent to Springfield have been sent with the mandate to work hard and win games. They will have quality mentors while there. MacFarland goes into more detail on this mandate. “We have some real quality veteran guys (in Springfield). The young guys, whoever ends up down there, do know what will be expected of them. They’ll have good, veteran leadership. Their development will be the same that it’s been the last few years.”

“We want them to go down there and work hard, win games and get that experience of playing important games and important minutes. And, when their number is called, they’re ready to come up here and contribute. That’s what we expect.”

He continues, clarifying the expectations from last year going into a new season. “We had really good, veteran leadership (in Springfield), and that was by design. It’s a credit to guys like Ryan Craig (20-27-47), Cody Bass (2-5-7) and Andrew Joudrey (9-13-22).”

“They were really important working with our young guys. Accountability is a big thing that we believe in. Things are going to have to be earned in the NHL, so we figured that it starts down there. Hopefully, that will pay dividends for the players when they get called-up, and we’ll continue to be one of those “bricks” at that level. We’re hoping to continue with that philosophy, for sure.”

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