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CBJ West Coast Swing: Didn’t we used to do this a lot?

As the Blue Jackets prepare tonight for the final game of a three game California trip, it got me thinking about how far the Jackets have come this year.  It also got me thinking of how far they aren’t going anymore.  Moving to the Eastern Conference was something we were told was a big deal for our team, players and fans, but looking back I’m starting to see the real impact.

This is our second, and final, west coast roadie.  Columbus’ slate includes only seven games that start at 9pm or later this season.  Last year’s strike shortened season had nine such games, and the prior full season had an excruciating twelve.  That doesn’t even address the bevy of 8:00 and 8:30 start times the Western Conference subjected us to.  Finding a Jackets game used to be an exercise, and for the casual fan wasn’t always worth it.  A stretch of 8 games last season had start times of 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 10:30, 8:00, 8:30 and back to 7:00.  Hope you brought your pocket schedule.  We’re creatures of habit, and dare I say it, a little bit lazy.  John Davidson can do commercials about how great the games are in person (and they are), but if you can’t find the road games on TV at a reasonable and consistent time your home product suffers.

Columbus is currently on a run of 12-4-1 for the Calendar year 2014, among the league’s best.  Its reminiscent of last April’s exciting, yet ultimately unsuccessful, run to the Playoffs.  On April 13th last year the team had just won 6 of 8 games, including 3 in a row, with big wins against the Western Conference’s Sharks, Blues and Wild.  The Blue Jackets new brand of winning hockey was exciting and nerve-wracking, and caught most everyone by surprise.  Then, with only 6 games to go, we had to suffer through a typical week exiled to Colorado and Los Angeles.  The team performed well, taking 2 of those 3 games, but it just felt different and unsatisfying.  The local water cooler conversation changed from “Did you see last night’s game? I can’t believe these guys!” and made it “Did you wake up and see if ESPN showed the score?  They never do.  Maybe I can check online at work.”  Momentum killed for the fans, see you next week at 7pm.  Or maybe 8.  Or 8:30ish.

New season, new Eastern Conference attitude.  It started out rocky, but the winning is back!  The recent good play hasn’t just been a lucky break, or a solid couple of weeks, but is a sustained run against some quality opponents.  There is a new set of expectations for where we can go and squeaking in with a Wildcard just isn’t acceptable anymore.  The fans can feel it, the television and radio coverage has picked up and social media is buzzing.  At home the story is always the same… finish dinner and tune in to watch your Jackets at 7pm.  My wife (the most casual of casual hockey fans) even asks if the Jackets are going to be on when Jeopardy starts.  Why?  Because that’s what time they play, and the games fall right into our laps.  I’m a happier CBJ fan in the Eastern Conference and I can’t be the only one.

So now that I’ve sold you on the new Blue Jackets Utopia, we’re back out west with a 10:30 puck drop tonight against the San Jose Sharks.  It seemed cruel at first, but the déjà vu we’ve experienced this week isn’t the momentum killer it used to be.  There’s almost a certain nostalgia, a pleasant memory of “remember how bad we used to have it?”  Sort of like we’ve somehow gotten one over on the NHL, finally.  Even the Olympic break softens the blow.  This week feels like the Olympics already started, but we get just enough late night Blue Jackets hockey to give us a fix.  Taking 3 out of 4 points so far hasn’t hurt either.

So the weekend is almost here and tonight we can stay up all night cheering on the Jackets.  Better get it while you can, because its going to be a long 20 day break.  But there is hope.  After the Olympics end your Columbus Blue Jackets have 24 games remaining, 12 home, 12 away.  None of those starting after 8:30.

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