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Game ops recognized as one of NHL's best

The cannon is one of many things fans enjoy about Nationwide Arena's entertainment

by Katie Foglia / For

The Blue Jackets game day experience at Nationwide Arena was rated among the best in the National Hockey League, according to a survey conducted during the 2015-16 season. It was also rated the eighth-best in pro sports by ESPN The Magazine.

The Blue Jackets were among the top tier of NHL clubs in all eight categories reviewed, including game day staff, food and beverage, venue technology, safety and security, auxiliary experience and arrival and departure experience.

To recognize the achievements of the countless staff behind that accomplishment, is going to explore what happens behind-the-scenes at the arena and in the team's front office to help provide fans a memorable experience. Here is the second segment - which focuses on game presentation- in a three-part series:

For Those About To Rock, Fire! (The Cannon)

Ever wondered who is responsible for firing the cannon when the Blue Jackets score a goal at Nationwide Arena? While the Cannon Crew and a handful of others are an integral part of the process, there's one person who makes the final call - Derek Dawley.

Dawley is the executive producer and senior director of event production for the Blue Jackets. On any given night, once before the game and then any time after the Blue Jackets score, Dawley is the voice directing the cannon fire and so much more.

Sitting high above the crowd in a production room on the press level at Nationwide Arena, Dawley is the mastermind behind essentially everything fans see, hear and experience while inside the venue.

"I think being upstairs, overseeing what's going on, you get a better view of what's happening," Dawley said. "I can see when Stinger is in place for the t-shirt toss. I can make sure our promo teams are set up, and you also get a feel for the crowd up there."

During games, Dawley is connected and constantly communicating with the other game night staff members through headsets. In addition to the headset, other essential tools of the trade include a phone, laptop, control board, several monitors, binoculars and a stopwatch.

"We have a great crew," Dawley said. "We're all constantly talking on headsets. It's as if we're all in the same room really just talking and going through things."

While Dawley, the DJ and six other audio and visual game night staff members sit upstairs, between 10-12 people control the video production aspect of the game presentation from a second production room located on the event level of the arena.

"If we have a great penalty kill and the fans are getting excited, we want to enhance that," Dawley said. "So that means at the next whistle, we're going to play some more exciting music, show some more replays, and really focus in on what's going on."

Dawley's full team is approximately 40-50 people working on game presentation on any given night. In addition to the aforementioned roles, other staff members include the promotions teams, the organ player, anthem singer Leo Welsh, public address announcer Greg Murray, in-arena host Mike Todd and many more.

"I consider myself an ambassador or a liaison between the fans and the team at times," Todd said. "It's really my goal, and I feel my responsibility, to make sure the fans are enjoying themselves."

The 2016-17 season is Todd's 14th with the Blue Jackets. In his role, he is constantly interacting with fans during promotions in the arena and other events throughout the community.

"The fans are such a primary part of this whole experience," Todd said. "It's really just being able to include them in the fun. Your hockey purists are here to watch the game and that's it, but then you've got families and friends or folks on some kind of corporate trip and you want them to remember the experience regardless of the outcome. So it's my hope that I'm able to facilitate that."

In addition to Dawley, Todd works closely with Lynn Truitt, the senior manager of event presentation, Andy Hookman, video production manager, David Traube, senior editor and producer, team mascot Stinger and many others.

"It looks easy because there's so many people here that do so many things," Todd said. "If you use the sports team analogy, everybody has to be doing their job for everything to come together right."

"The fact that we have (people) like Derek and Lynn and Andy and David, you have so many other people that do their jobs so well, that have been doing it as long as we have with each other, we trust each other enough that when the job needs to get done, we know it'll happen."

As executive producer of event presentation, Dawley ensures every team member knows their role and navigates the production from pre-game through the post-game show.

"Derek is kind of my eyes and ears," Todd said. "He guides me. He's someone who always has my back and he trusts me. I've been doing this for so long and he may not even give me super specific instructions, he'll just say 'Hit on these points and go do your thing,' which means a lot to me. If someone trusts you like that, then I feel a lot of responsibility that I come through."

Although it may feel organic at times, all in-arena productions elements are scripted and timed down to the second. A printed script is dispersed amongst staff at a 5:00 p.m. production meeting.

"When I explain it, it's when you're in your seat watching the game, pretty much everything that's going on except what's happening on the ice," Dawley said. "So it's the lighting, the sound, the video board, the promotions that are going on, whatever we are giving away, it's just kind of everything you see or feel that's not actually happening on the ice.

"Once the game starts, everything is calculated- whether it's the promotions, t-shirt tosses, the pizza tosses and then really we're sitting back watching the game and trying to react and enhance whatever happens on the ice," Dawley said.

The Blue Jackets were rated particularly high in venue technology, something Dawley and his team strive to be progressive with. He and his team visit other arenas to stay on top of technology news, trends, and to always be prepared for what's next.

"I think technology is really going to take us to the next level as far as fan experience goes," Dawley said. "I think it's us continuing to focus on technology and what the next technology-related thing is that we're going to be able to do with fans, whether it be in the area or through social or mobile devices."

And just like what happens on the ice, Dawley said game presentation is a total team effort.

"I've always said your game experience starts from the time you leave your house," Dawley said. "(You're) listening to the pre-game show, having a good interaction with the parking attendant, walking to the arena, experiencing the concourse, hearing music and smelling good food being cooked - it's all part of it," Dawley said.

"What we do is the game production and the fan experience inside the bowl, but we know it takes an entire army of people here to make sure that fans have a good experience every time they come."

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