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Can we turn Olympic hockey fans into Jackets fans?

This week the Columbus Blue Jackets return from the Olympic break. As hardcore fans, we’ve been counting down the days since the final horn blew against the San Jose Sharks, but not everyone is like us. My truck was in the shop earlier this week and I had to get a buddy in the office to drive me over to pick it up last night. He’s not a hockey guy, but he started telling me how he watched Olympic hockey and thought it was pretty cool. He didn’t know the big deal about the big ice, and was pretty confused by icing, but found it overall to be much more entertaining than expected. This comes only a month after he turned down a pair of free tickets to see the Jackets play at Nationwide Arena. I didn’t really believe the Olympics would provide a bump to the NHL, but there I was talking to a possible convert. There are 24 games left and our team in the thick of the playoff race, so we’ve got a perfect storm here in Columbus to make it happen. It got me thinking that I need to do my part to hook some of these Olympic watchers and ensure they follow the CBJ. We can’t throw these guys out to the wolves and have them navigate the NHL on their own this weekend, or we risk them becoming something truly tragic… Like Penguins fans! Nobody wants that, so I came up with a quick list of five easy tips for the new Jackets fans. If you know anyone that watched the Olympics but doesn’t follow the NHL print them off a copy of the following:

1. We’ll start out with the basics: Hockey has a lot of rules, but knowing two will get you through your first game. You need to know icing and offsides (the following is a gross over-generalization and doesn’t cover all nuances, so cut me some slack). Icing occurs when your team is on defense and knocks the puck all the way across the rink to where the other team’s goalie is, and it crosses the far red line. If your team is short-handed (other team is on a power play) then you don’t get called for it. Icing brings the puck back into your team’s defensive area for a faceoff, and when the Jackets commit icing you say “dammit.” If you want to strike up a conversation at a game you can lean over to the guy next to you and say “This hybrid icing isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” Then don’t say anything else.

The next rule is offsides. When your team is bringing the puck down on offense and crosses the blue line closest to the other teams goalie, the puck has to go across the line before any Jackets player does. This includes the player handling the puck. When you are offsides, the refs blow the whistle and there is a faceoff between the blue line and center line, unless it’s a delayed offsides. On a delayed offsides, the refs let your guys “clear the zone” by all skating away from the opponent’s goalie and back across the blue line. When the Jackets get called for being offsides, you also have to say “dammit.” If you have a grasp on those two rules most everything else in the game will make sense. If you want to know more just search “hockey rules for beginners” on the internet and countless sites will help you find out the rest.

2. You have to pick a favorite Blue Jackets player. There are really no bad choices here. Goalie Bob is always a good default favorite, as are Nathan Horton or Ryan Johansen. For those of you that like to be an individual and not pick the super cool kids then go with hustle guys like Nick Foligno or Matt Calvert. If you want to cheer on new guys, you have Boone Jenner or Ryan Murray to pick from. If you think the defense doesn’t get enough credit, you can go with Jack Johnson or James Wisniewski. If none of those work for you go with your gut, your favorite number, what names sound funny, or anything you like. But you have to pick someone. Nothing is worse than a fan that “likes the whole team” because that’s communism.

3. If you find yourself enojoying Blue Jackets hockey, next you have to go get yourself some CBJ swag. You don’t have to break the bank as there are clothes for all budgets. You can start out at sports stores or big box stores. I’ve personally had good luck finding CBJ stuff at TJ Maxx, but they can be inconsistent on what they have in stock. Thrift stores are also good places to find bargain Jackets apparel, and you never know what you’ll find (Ron Tugnutt jersey? Yes please!). Just make sure you don’t buy anything that says Carter or Foote on it. Don’t even ask why, just don’t do it. Try to avoid #61 too. There are way too many of those old relics floating around and they need to be retired. At the other end of the spectrum you can spend your hard earned money on a new jersey, but be careful. Check the roster to make sure they still play for us. You don’t want to drop $200 on a Dorsett or a Prospel sweater and wonder where they are. You may also consider staying away from guys that might get traded (looking at you, #10), and fringe guys who may not stay on the team more than a season or two. It’s a lot of money and you want your investment to last. I personally went with Sergei Bobrovsky because I figured a Vezina Trophy winner has some staying power, but I did wait until after he signed his new contract. If you want to minimize the risk you can choose a shirt-sey. You get a number on the back to show you have a rooting interest, but its not as big of an investment. There is only one rule for all of the above: never wear your quality Columbus Blue Jackets merchandise with another teams gear. Seeing a Blue Jackets sweater with a Bruins hat is nauseating and makes you look like you can’t dress yourself. Don’t be that guy.

4. Join Twitter. It’s a fast way to catch up on the team, the players, and the next game. Its also a place to show camaraderie and find likeminded Blue Jackets fans. Make sure to start at the top and follow the Blue Jackets official account. After that you can make Twitter whatever you want. You can follow some local journalists that cover the team daily and will provide updates on injuries, and what the team is up to. You can follow any number of fan sites, groups and blogs with Blue Jackets centric articles and posts. If you want more irreverent Jackets tweets, go with the player appreciation fan accounts. Some are funny, some are just okay, and some don’t tweet anything anyways. Most provide good natured CBJ chatter and humor, and it seems like there are about 100 of them. Besides that they are a good way to gain followers for your own account, as most of them will follow you back. Just remember that no matter who you follow, everyone can use Twitter, so it can be a great resource, or it can be a great curse. Use it wisely and don’t get drawn into twitter battles.

5. I’ll round it out with some quick hitters: Don’t yell “Shoot it.” Players in the NHL are pretty great and would shoot it if they thought it was a good idea. Being “Shoot it” guy is annoying and makes people judge you. Unless they are also “shoot it” guy. Then you need new friends… Go on YouTube and type in Bobrovsky / Jay Onrait. Its funny and you’ll be in on the joke when everyone yells your goalie’s name… If you are trying to talk about the Blue Jackets and you don’t know what to say, just add “I like what J.D. and Jarmo are doing with this team.” Make sure you pronounce it “Yar-mo.” If that doesn’t work complain that ESPN and local radio never cover hockey. Those two things will get you through any Jackets conversation…

These 5 things should help you turn anyone into a tried and true Columbus Blue Jackets fan before the playoffs arrive. Its worth a shot anyways. We have to make this Olympic break count for something. If we don’t, the only thing we’ll remember it for will be Team USA’s meltdown and Fedor Tyutin’s ankle injury.

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