Hockey is on the rise in the Buckeye State News, Sports, Jobs

With how this offseason has played out so far, the Columbus Blue Jackets may have done something that seemed like just a dream a few years ago.

The Blue Jackets have quite possibly ended the stigma of Ohio being an undesirable hockey market, or at least put a damper on those thoughts from the national outlets.

Now that might seem like a bit of hyperbole, so I’ll do you one better. We may be in the beginning stages of a kind of “renaissance” for the sport in Ohio.

This probably is a little dramatic. That being said, let’s have some fun.

Columbus’ splash signing of star left winger Johnny Gaudreau on the first day of the NHL Free Agency period is huge. It may not seem like much now, but this is just one of a few signs that Ohio is a hockey market on the rise.

Last season, star blueliner Zach Werenski committed to stay in-state for six years. Just a few hours before I wrote this, Finnish winger Patrik Laine committed to the Blue Jackets for four seasons.

After years of failing to attract and retain top-level talent, the Blue Jackets are locking their top guys.

For years, the narrative surrounding Gaudreau was that he was destined to play in Philadelphia. He grew up a Flyers fan, he’s from a town in New Jersey that’s 45 minutes away from Philadelphia. That being said, he interviewed with the Flyers. He interviewed with New Jersey and the New York Islanders, as well.

He chose Columbus.

“I wanted to come here. This was always a place circled on my list,” Gaudreau said during his introductory press conference. “I’m not really sure about any other players. We’re not talking about why people don’t want (to go) to Columbus. It’s not a topic in the locker room. For me, I just heard so many great things from former players, and it made me feel really comfortable with my decision to come here.”

Jack Roslovic and Sean Kuraly are both from the Columbus area. Cole Sillinger, while Canadian, was born in Columbus as his father played for the Blue Jackets. The dividends of establishing a hockey team in a “non-traditional market” are beginning to pay off.

Producing local talent is arguably the biggest sign Columbus is becoming less of a “town with a hockey team” and more of a “hockey town.”

Honestly, this might be the best time to be an Ohio-based hockey fan as it’s ever been, minus maybe the 60s when the Cleveland Barons were around in the American Hockey League.

The Blue Jackets are inking stars. Their farm team, the Cleveland Monsters, are a few years removed from a Calder Cup championship. And the coach of that team, Jared Bednar, just won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.

The Ohio State women’s hockey team just won a national title. The men’s program has consistently been a ranked program as of late.

East Palestine-born JT Miller of the Vancouver Canucks has continued to take steps to grow his game. This past season was his best by a wide margin, leading the team in points with 99 (32 goals, 67 assists) across 82 games and wearing an ‘A’ on his chest as an alternate captain.

Lest we forget the hometown Youngstown Phantoms, who are kickstarting a new era. Several players who have already been selected in the NHL Draft are expected to hit the ice for the team this season, and a few future picks are going to be playing as well.

There’s plenty to be excited about if you’re an area hockey fan. I know technically we’re closer to Pittsburgh and everything, but western Pennsylvania has undergone this transformation already.

After the Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr teams of the 90s, and the Sidney Crosby teams of the mid-2000s to now, the sport has a grip on the area. It’s too early to say if Gaudreau is going to produce the same effect for Columbus and Ohio as a whole, but this could be the first domino to fall.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen seems to think the same.

“I think we can finally get rid of the (expletive) that this is somehow a bad destination, a bad city, whatever,” Kekalainen said to The Athletic. “Because it’s never been true. We got a bad rap because a couple of people decided all along that they weren’t going to be here long-term for various reasons, but it has never been about the city or the organization.

“We’ve just had to shut our mouth and deal with that, but every time I see a comment like that, I get a rash.”

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