Last night brought the Phoenix Coyotes to town and also marked the 2nd “Hockey and Heels” event put on by the Columbus Blue Jackets. I was very excited to go to since last year’s quickly became my favorite hockey event of the season. I think getting more women involved with – and loving – hockey is something to be supported. There are a lot of very smart female hockey fans and we are constantly fighting to get the hockey world to realize that women who follow the great game aren’t just puck bunnies, or people looking for distraction “while the men watch” (ahem). So kudos to the Blue Jackets for giving women a night to hang out, talk hockey, and enjoy some girl time.
The Jackets continue to uphold their reputation for doing things for their fans in high style. Hockey and Heels was held in the Founder’s Club and was set up with a bar at the ready (complete with a ‘signature drink’) and a full spread of goodies to snack on. Every attendee received a $50 gift certificate from Meyer’s Jewelers, a raffle ticket for event giveaways and, upon leaving, a Blue Jackets wine glass. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces but also a lot of new ones. Everyone was pretty excited and grabbed seats, packing the room full and it was time for the event to get underway.
What I loved about last year’s event so much was the ability to give women at all levels of fandom and hockey understanding a forum to learn more and to provide it in such an accessible way – through Q&A from the audience. That tradition continued tonight. There was very little scripted talk – guest speakers came in and got right down to business – and again, questions ranged from basic points of understanding: “why do they call it a one-timer?” “what makes an official throw someone out of the faceoff circle?” to discussion on the hot button issues that are roving through the league: realignment, visors and, of course, the Blue Jackets season.
First to join us was Derek Dorsett. Poor Dorse, out of the lineup with his broken collarbone, was
game to take some questions from the crowd. He echoed a lot of comments from Jackets land regarding realignment and the Jackets going east by saying what a significant benefit the reduced travel will be. He also shared his specific perspective on now being viewed as a leader within the team saying that what’s important is to not let it change the way you play while concentrating on helping to make sure guys are ready to go for every game. Of course talk of fights came up with Derek in the room and he talked about how some fights go on because linesmen know who’s a gamer and who is not. He also talked about the chatter that goes on during a fight that we don’t hear – his example being a funny comment that a guy may say “Hey, you know, my hand’s broke” and then a fight is stopped. Derek’s take on visors was more focused on ability to see the game versus safety. He had to play with one during his stint in Switzerland during the lockout and he talked about how it changes the way you see the puck and impacts your ability to play if you’re not used to that. He imagines that the requirement may be coming though, and thinks there may be a grandfathering clause that accompanies that. Of course it wouldn’t be the Dorsett we know and love if his answers didn’t include some candid thoughts – while discussing visors he didn’t hesitate to say that Cal Clutterbuck is a “cheap” player and, at the end, when someone yelled “Tootoo sucks” Dorse ended his time with us by saying enthusiastically “I agree.”
Next up were the guests that truly are my favorite part of this event, believe it or not, the officials. All of our snarky comments aside – this is always fascinating as the officiating team shares their perspective on their job and different rules. And don’t think these guys don’t know how we feel – in good humor they shared “no one grows up wanting to be an official” and that “they start off the night perfect and go downhill from there.” The 4 man team offered insight on the difference between linesmen and referees and also some of their pre-game routines – including the fact that when they gather at center ice before the game, they all tap the NHL crest on their jerseys in honor of a fallen colleague. The guys talked about calling majors, high stick calls (on goals versus normal play) and when they go to review – the team even acknowledged that if they are unsure on something, they’ll slow the game down with the hope that the video team will go to review. Ironically, I asked for their perspective on goalie interference and they guys shared that it is indeed the most subjective call in hockey – their goal is to give the goalie the chance to play the shot. They talked quite a bit about all the different scenarios where this comes into play but apparently completely forgot it promptly upon taking the ice since Bob got mugged last night with no call at all. ;) Ultimately these guys said that you love officiating or you don’t – and with refs working 73 games in a regular season and linesmen doing 75 with only 5% of those games near your “home” you have to.
Next up was Assistant Coach Dan Hinote. Dan is one of the coaches who is responsible for the CBJ penalty kill and it’s 4th in the league performance so he talked about that quite a bit. He shared that after last year, a lot of time was spent watching teams that did kill effectively. There are two types of kill strategies: pressure or blocking and we’ve gone with “pressure” a la LA, Pittsburgh and Jersey. We give up some chances in order to defend those that we think are more dangerous. Overall, we want a team to have to complete at least three passes to get a chance on us. Well, it’s working for sure. One of the most interesting tidbits from Dan was a comment about the identity of our team. As a “young coach”, Hinote’s playing days aren’t too far behind him, and he shared that in past years, the only things teams worried about when they came to Columbus were 1) Mason 2) Nash. Neutralize those and you can win. Now when teams come in, no one knows how to tackle our team and, in talking with other coaches, we’re quickly gaining the reputation that “no one wants to play us”. “We are playing high energy, in your face hockey and it’s working”, Hinote said. He also commented that the reason our system is working even with the absence of Nash and no named Captain this year is that without a “C”, guys are “freed up to do other things and you don’t have to worry about stepping on the captain’s toes”.
Next up was Ohio State Women’s Hockey Coach, Nate Handrahan. I’ll admit some pre-formed love for Nate – he coached the OSU hockey clinic I attended, and if you have the chance to go see the women’s team play, you’ll find a remarkably entertaining game from a team that he has really formed into something great. The value of Nate joining us was to reinforce the fact that women can not only be a fan of hockey, we can also play hockey. He has three daughters – all of whom play as well and he is very focused on building opportunities at every level for girls to play. Nate and his coaching staff are the lone recruiters for the OSU team and they have an international roster with 1 Finn and 1 Swede. He commented on the unique aspect of the college game that unlike professional hockey, their development timeline is 4 years – period. Women getting the chance to play hockey with women is a cause Nate is passionate about and you can see it in how he talks.
Our final guest was the always entertaining James Wisniewski. Wiz joined us last year (due to ANOTHER broken foot) and joked that he hopes this is the last time he sees us at this event! Wiz talked about his fashion – the discussion on his suit collection alone could be it’s own post – but also showed a more matured, contemplative side of himself this year which is seemingly attributed (and rightly so!) to the arrival of his daughter, Jamie. Wiz talked about mentoring young guys, and helping them realize that one’s time in the league goes by so fast. His career shows full circle moments now such as the fact that Adrian Aucoin was captain on Wiz’s first team in the NHL. When talk turned to the actual game, he commented that he prefers to watch the game from as low as possible in an arena because that is closer to what the players see. It’s very easy to say “make that pass” or “take that shot” when you’re watching from a bird’s eye view but the sight lines and action on ice are far different. He also talked about the activity of playing hockey as being perhaps the most awkward cardio one can do. It’s inefficient, and is performed in short short bursts. Wiz made every question accessible including joking about the irony of blocking shots “that’s a stupid thing to do – you have a guy back there who has that job” but his ever present ‘give it all’ attitude always demands you to do whatever you have to do. Wiz also shared that when you’re stuck out on the ice for a particularly long shift, the defensive strategy changes if someone yells ‘box it up!’ and the guys will tighten up around the net and start blocking shots – reducing the skating that is happening.
Once again, Hockey and Heels did not disappoint. Each speaker had his own perspective and that gave you a holistic view of the game. Coaching, playing, officiating, developing talent – we heard a little bit about it all. In reflecting on all the comments as one big story, it helps put the hockey puzzle together more and more. Kudos to the Blue Jackets for delivering another great event and for building and strengthening female interest in the game. And even heartier congratulations to the boys who suited up last night. Their shoot out win certainly delivered an exciting game for everyone in attendance and I can’t imagine anyone didn’t have more love for hockey after last night.