The final score was irrelevant after the Blue Jackets Alumni benefit hockey game at the OhioHealth Ice Haus (it was 11-10 for those curious). What mattered above all else was the message being supported and also the power of awareness.
Mental health awareness has become the signature cause of the Blue Jackets Alumni, a group headed up by team ambassador and television analyst Jody Shelley. Shelley, who like many former Jackets has a personal connection to Luke Richardson’s family from his playing days here, organized the “Do It For Daron” game in large part because of what he witnessed in Dublin earlier this year.
Daron Richardson, who grew up playing hockey in the Dublin area, committed suicide at age 14 and in the wake of that tragedy, her friends and former teammates gained strength from a unified cause.
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A regular season high school hockey game in January 2014 was made extra special because it was “Do It For Daron Night” at the Dublin Chiller, and along with Blue Jackets forward Jared Boll, Shelley took it all in and knew soon after that he wanted to help the DIFD initiative.
“We went to Dublin and saw (Daron’s friends and teammates) play in that game,” Shelley said. “It was a regular season game for high school hockey and I was blown away by the look in their eyes. They got it. They were there to promote a message and erase a stigma, and that’s why we did this today. They were passionate and they’re all in. These guys want to help people. I’m so proud of those guys.”
The rink was packed on Black Friday, hours before the Blue Jackets were scheduled to take on the Vancouver Canucks. Friends, family, and complete strangers gathered to watch the Blue Jackets Alumni take the ice again and do so in support of a cause that has affected the lives of so many people.
Many of those in attendance were wearing purple (Daron's favorite color), including the players on the ice, a group that included Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, former Jackets Fredrik Modin, Andrew Cassels and Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, and a group of Daron's friends and teammates.
PHOTOS: #CBJ Alumni "Do It For Daron" Game
“The people that came out in support of this event made it so special,” Shelley said. “There have been a lot of people who really appreciate the message we’re talking about and trying to spread. We’ve created awareness already for something that’s very important, and that, to me, is very rewarding.
“When you organize things, there’s that one unknown: who’s listening to what we’re saying? There were familiar faces, unfamiliar faces, and I think it was a success.”
The event raised over $10,000 for Do It For Daron and that came from donations at the door and bids on a silent auction full of autographed memorabilia, Blue Jackets experiences and items donated from outside. Shelley, who serves as president of the Alumni Association, was thrilled with the turnout for their first event and said it only energizes them for the organization’s future.
“This community is so great, full of great people,” Shelley said. “We’re so proud to have worn the Blue Jackets jersey – every one of us that lived here and live around the world. We had an outpouring of emails in support of this event from people around the world who played for the Blue Jackets. We’re proud to be here.
"There was a point there where I really felt bad for the fans, because (the hockey) wasn’t pretty. It was fun just to get with the older guys and the guys that played together in the past. But let's not do anything physical for the next event…maybe golf, or a book club? Let’s stay away from anything that requires conditioning.”