Columbus got a chance to shine on one of hockey’s big stages and thanks in part to the Blue Jackets’ reps, the city came away looking great. And who knew Nick Foligno could hang with the big dogs?
COLUMBUS – You could argue that Jakub Voracek was the true MVP of the game, you could make the case that Nick Foligno was an odd choice to be a captain in the first place, but in an event that is all about the fans, does any of that really matter?
When the cannon smoke cleared at Nationwide Arena, the two representatives of the hometown Columbus Blue Jackets, Foligno and MVP Ryan Johansen, sat in front of the media and had one last jokey yet heartfelt chance to bask in the glory of All-Star Weekend.
“It has meant a lot,” said Johansen. “Seeing the fans and how much they enjoyed the festivities – everyone seemed to have a great time.”
The game itself was pretty much forgettable, though for historical purposes the 17-12 final set a new record for goals in an all-star game. There were some nice moves made easier by the slow pace of the contest and the lackadaisical approach to defense by all, but really, who cares?
It’s OK that the weekend was a love-in for Columbus, a city that has been there through the blight for its only Big Four franchise. The Blue Jackets earned their first-ever post-season wins last year and high hopes for this season have largely been dashed by injuries, but the All-Star Game was a perfect showcase for a town that clearly loves hockey, something that made Foligno proud.
And speaking of Foligno, he was a hit all weekend. While Johansen has the better pedigree and name recognition, it was the hard-nosed Foligno who earned captaincy duties alongside Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and the Jackets winger stepped up big-time.
With lovable characters Patrick Kane and Drew Doughty as his alternates, Foligno set the tone for the weekend at the Friday fantasy draft, treating the event with humor, as he should have. Not bad for a guy who has never tallied 50 points in an NHL season (but will most likely shatter that mark this year) and has never been in the national spotlight before.
“I was nervous, for sure,” Foligno said. “It was my first All-Star Game and my first time really being around these guys. You want to just fly under the radar, but I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to embrace this’ and I’m glad I did. It really was a great experience.”
Unfortunately for Columbus fans, this will likely be the high-water mark of the 2014-15 campaign. The Jackets will return to action 14 points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, with five teams to pass in the process. And they’ll start that mission without star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who missed the All-Star Game due to a groin injury.
So the party may be over on a number of fronts, but at least Foligno and Johansen won’t return to their regular squad with big heads.
“We’ll have the rest of our team to humble us tomorrow,” Johansen said. “We have a good focus coming back.”
In terms of showing off Columbus as a hockey market, this weekend was a big success. I had never been to Nationwide Arena, but now I would rank it top-five among all the rinks in the NHL that I’ve been to, which is about half of them. The building is unique, the atmosphere was great and the surrounding area was cool.
Now about that cannon…