In the last week, the NHL and NBA have given us exciting championships with great story lines and amazing finishes. It has truly been reality television at its finest and the coverage of each final has been the focus of every media outlet.
After a gutsy, gritty Game 2 overtime victory for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a native Ohioan summed up how most us would feel if our favorite hometown sports team was in that moment. LeBron James, the prodigal son who said “I’m coming home” last summer, was asked what the first Finals win in franchise history meant to him and his home city. Shaking his head a bit in disbelief of the feat just accomplished, he simply replied, “everything.”
As both a Columbus resident and a 5th Liner, you have to wonder, what will it be like? What will it mean to our town? What will it be like when the Columbus Blue Jackets bring the Stanley Cup Finals to the state capital? What will it be like at Nationwide Arena when the 5th Line erupts when the commissioner hands our boys in Union Blue that silver Cup? What will it be like in Columbus, Ohio? What will it mean to the Great State of Ohio?
Let’s explore this future moment in time together. Turn your imaginations on, kiddos.
Put yourself in the Arena District during a warm June afternoon. The grounds crew at Huntington Park is readying the field for a midday Clippers game, but not everyone walking by will be entering that particular venue. Local restaurants and area bars are prepping their patios and establishments for the flock of 5th Liners ready to take over their businesses. The diligent Nationwide Arena and Columbus Blue Jackets personnel are making sure everything is in place for the festivities to begin. Area offices are closing early to accommodate those CBJ fans going downtown. The box office bears an anxious line of fans stretching around the arena Tim Horton’s and through the Ice Haus, all of whom are looking to get their hands on coveted last minute Finals tickets. Union Blue jerseys and home-made signs litter the front plaza as folk line up in the 80 degree heat to be the first through NWA’s glass doors. Columbus is buzzing from every angle in anticipation for tonight’s Stanley Cup Final game.
The players file in to into Nationwide Arena hours before puck drop, some have more trouble than others getting through the crowd surrounding John H. McConnell Blvd. Each Jacket rolling by has been greeted with enthusiastic cheers and admiration from the red, white and blue mob outside the arena. They step into the locker room start focusing on the battle that is sure to ensue that night. Members of the media are camped out in front of the doors, waiting for last minute comments from players and staff. The trainers and team doctors wrap limbs, tape ankles and tend to other injuries accumulated over the course of the grueling playoff run. Final alterations are made to sticks and pads as the equipment staff rushes to get the combatants what they need for tonight’s contest. Players go through their pre-game rituals. Some sit quietly in their lockers, some talk last minute strategy with team coaches and scouts and some escape to the music in their headphones. All are mentally preparing themselves for a game they dreamed of playing in as a child. Coaches organize themselves somewhere in a room, making sure lines and rosters are ready. Adjustments and game plans have been reviewed thoroughly by all. The Columbus Blue Jackets are ready to take the ice.
The scene is set in Nationwide Arena. The warm-ups are taking place. The 5th Line is in their seats. Some last minute analysis from hockey’s talking heads is displayed on the big screen at center ice. The noise in the barn builds every minute, as do anxiety and excitement as puck drop is moments away. The introductions have been announced. National Anthem has been song. The city of Columbus, the state of Ohio, and the rest of the world are all watching closely. The time to make history is now.
So, what would a Stanley Cup Final be like in Columbus? What would it mean to the city and State of Ohio?