Shelley enjoying emergence of Blue Jackets
Widely known for his pugilism while on the ice, tough-guy Jody Shelley was equally known for his community service and charity work away from the rink.
Through 11 years in the NHL, he racked up more than 1,500 penalty minutes, doing his best to help police the game he loves. He was, and still is, a fan favorite in Columbus. After hanging up his gloves this past summer, he returned to the Blue Jackets, only now he wears a suit to work.
With the fighting back in the headlines from those that would like to see it removed from the game, the groundswell from those that don't play the game at this level is getting louder. Then there are those that defend fighting as a part of the fabric of the game, the most high profile of which would have to be Hockey Hall of Fame member Bobby Orr. Shelley also believes that there is a place for fighting within the game.
"There's a place for it (fighting) in hockey", said Shelley. "It holds people accountable for their actions. Hockey is fast, it's intense and it's rough. It's just good knowing that players can handle things themselves."
"There's a lot put on the referees, as far as what they're supposed to do. I think that they're almost given too much responsibility. They should keep hockey safe and fair. And, they're doing a great job of that. But, there's a part of the game where they need to let players settle scores, so to speak."
The referees have the unenviable task of trying to enforce rules on fighting that seem to get more stringent as each year passes. "There were referees when I first started playing that had real personalities and knew all the guys in hockey. They had a close hand with players and how they played. They knew what their (players) reputation was and they let that play in the game."
"A player that has the style of an agitator, a guy that dives or a guy that talks but doesn't back it up, the refs used to let those guys stay in the game and have to stand up for themselves rather than kick them out. That personality of the refs really helped and is a part of the game, too. I've had refs come up to me and say 'are you guys going to fight? If you're not fighting, quit yapping or I'm going to throw you both in the box'. It was 'do it' and get on with the game. There was a real feel for that. Fighting definitely has its purpose in hockey."
Before being traded away from the Blue Jackets in 2008, Shelley saw Jered Boll and Derek MacKenzie start their time donning the Union Blue. He's seen their progression as they've made their mark in the NHL. "I love where they're at now. I love it for the fact that the team is in a great spot. These guys have been through a lot of things in the last four or five years. There have been struggles. You want to see them do better."
"Now, here they are and they've done very well. Jared (Boll) has proved himself in the NHL as a stand-up guy, an enforcer guy and he's also developing into a good player. Derek MacKenzie is a guy that I'm just shocked with. I can't believe how fast he is. He drives the engine for the team. He did it for a long time in the minors. He played that 'good guy' role and did it very well. He's been rewarded with a great role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's a vital role that he brings."
"Now he's the elder statesman on the team and that's a credit to him. It's not easy to be Derek MacKenzie on most nights when you're in the minors and watching guys go up and trying to figure out where you fit in, in pro hockey. And then, you finally get your crack (at being called up) like you knew you should and he's made the best of it."
"I'm really happy for both of those guys and where they've grown with this team. They've seen it and they know where they want to be, as a team, and they're part of the 'bright spot' here now. That's got to be very rewarding for them, I'm sure."
Columbus is a second home for Jody, as he met his wife while playing here and always stated that he wanted to return upon retiring from the NHL. When that happened, the club found a place for him within the organization. "My first call (to John Davidson) was to see where they were at. We had some good discussions and for me, I'm just so excited to be back and to be a part of this organization and what they're doing here."
"For me, it's been amazing to see what's going on here. As a player, you take a lot for granted. You work so hard behind the scenes and everyone has their skill. Now I'm learning other skills that go into the show (radio) when the lights are on. A lot of hard work goes into it, with a lot of great people, to make it work every single day. I knew there was a lot going on (here), but I guess that I didn't know it in a detailed sense."
Since rejoining the club, Shelley has seen and felt the excitement and buzz surrounding the Blue Jackets. "I'm excited at what happened last year with these guys. I'm excited by how the guys have a good tone and a good sense about them. It's not a 'measuring stick' team anymore. They don't go into games just hoping to hang with other teams. They believe in their identity and how they play. They believe they are the team that can beat anyone."
"In saying that, there were obviously great things in place here. They went through a terrible start last year. You can't forget about those days and how bleak things were, at the time. Then, they went on a run where they pushed each other and got to know how hard each other can work. They really found out what they had here, from each other." "Now they have a group here that believes in each other and knows how hard each other can work. Yes, that's just in one year but, the good news is it's not an old, banged-up team. It's a young, up and coming, hardworking group. They have a goalie (Sergei Bobrovsky) that sets the bar for work ethic, with the skill set, determination and will to win."
Columbus has turned a corner in its history with responsibility, accountability and hard work being their mantra. "Sometimes it's the right thing to say, but there's no 'just saying the right thing' anymore."
The Blue Jackets return to action tonight as they host the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs in the friendly confines. The puck drops at 7 p.m.