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Game of the Month: Sanderson's hat trick went down in history

20 years ago today, hats rained down in Nationwide for the first time

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Each month during our 20th anniversary celebration, will look back at a memorable moment in franchise history from that month with our Game of the Month feature. The series continues today with the team's Feb. 10, 2001, victory over Nashville that featured the first hat trick in franchise history.

Geoff Sanderson scored eight hat tricks in his NHL career, and the reality is those accomplishments -- as fun as they were in the moment -- don't necessarily stand the test of time in his memory bank. 

So when Columbus Dispatch writer Aaron Portzline interviewed Sanderson in the locker room about his historic moment on Feb. 10, 2001 -- 20 years ago to the day today -- he penned a lead that has stood the test of time. 

If this hat trick is anything like Geoff Sanderson's previous six, he'll barely remember it in a couple of seasons. It's a safe bet, though, that most of the 18,136 in Nationwide Arena last night will be able to refresh his memory. 

"For some reason, I don't remember much about regular-season games," Sanderson told Portzline for his story at the time. "Now playoff games I remember." 

Certainly, most members of that packed crowd -- many of whom left Nationwide Arena with the breeze blowing into newly uncovered heads after throwing hats onto the ice for the first time in franchise history -- do remember that game which has stood the test of time in Blue Jackets history. 

As for Sanderson? Details remain a bit hazy. 

When the leading scorer from the original CBJ team was interviewed by former teammate Jody Shelley this past spring when Fox Sports Ohio replayed the historic game, Sanderson admitted that two decades later the specifics still haven't stuck in his brain. 

"I know when it was and who it was against, but I can't remember the goals," Sanderson told Shelley. "It's funny. I think the third goal, I don't even think I scored it. I think it went into the net and the refs thought I might have tipped it, and I don't think I did." 

Video: Jody Shelley catches up with Geoff Sanderson

In fact, that's where you can tell that Sanderson's memory does remain quite hazy. If you watch the video, there's little doubt Sanderson scored the third goal in what would become a 3-2 victory for the Blue Jackets, a backhander from the longtime NHL forward after making a number of moves in traffic. 

If there's any doubt about whether one of the goals should have belonged to Sanderson, it would be the second, a deflection at the front of the cage that may or may not have gone off the alternate captain. 

Of course, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. When you've scored as many NHL goals as Sanderson -- 355 over a 17-year season -- it's hard to remember everything exactly right. 

That goal-scoring prowess is what made him an intriguing figure to the Blue Jackets when the expansion draft was held June 23, 2000. Both the Blue Jackets and Wild had an eclectic group of players available, from NHL veterans to prospects, some has-beens and never-weres, many of whom would go on to play historic roles in the shaping of both NHL franchises. 

Sanderson was one of the players left available by Buffalo, with whom he had played two and a half seasons. He had been a regular point producer in his time in Hartford and Carolina, averaging 0.77 points per game with a high-water mark of 46 goals and 89 points in 1992-92, and was expected to add scoring punch to the Sabres when acquired midway through the 1997-98 season. 

He would go on to be a key part of the 1999 Buffalo team that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but the offense never quite came along to the same level as it did in Hartford on a team that prized defensive play and whose backbone was goaltender Dominik Hasek. 

By the time the expansion draft came along, the then-28-year-old was left available by the Sabres. 

"I've heard some things, that it was maybe going to happen, so I can't say I was shocked," Sanderson told the Dispatch after the expansion draft in 2000. "But Columbus is where I really wanted to go. My agent told me that they had the whole organization on target. He also said there was a lot of excitement in the city over the team coming there, so I'm quite happy." 

Looking back, Sanderson saw the chance with the Blue Jackets as an opportunity to refresh his career after playing mostly third-line duty with the Sabres. 

"They don't really outright tell you until they decide not to protect you, but you can figure it out on your own," he told Shelley last year. "You look at contracts and who is getting protected, who is not getting protected on your team, the age structure of your team. I was an older player. I could add it up, and I knew I was going to get exposed in the draft. And I was excited about it. Like anybody, it was an opportunity for a restart in their career." 

Being left to third-line status wouldn't be the case in Columbus, where he immediately became one of the top offensive attractions for Dave King's inaugural squad. By the time the Blue Jackets got ready for a game Feb. 10 against visiting Nashville, Sanderson had a team-high 23 goals on the season. 

While there had been plenty of milestones to that point in CBJ history -- the first win, the first home win and the first shutout come to mind -- no one had put three pucks in the net for one of hockey's most prized in-game accomplishments.  

Sanderson got off to a pretty good start toward the hat trick, tallying twice in the first period. He opened the scoring 6:19 into the game with a wrist shot from the slot that beat goalie Mike Dunham, as Steve Heinze carried the puck to the middle of the ice only to have it poked off his stick right to Sanderson to blow by the blocker of the Nashville netminder. 

The Predators tied the score later in the period on a goal by Scott Walker, but Sanderson restored the Blue Jackets' lead late in the first. He won a faceoff at the right dot then went to the front of the net, while defenseman Deron Quint took the puck, skated down the wall and fired a centering pass. There, it deflected off Sanderson -- officially, at least -- and into the net to give Columbus a 2-1 lead at 19:19 of the period. 

Video: Game of the Month: Sanderson nets first hat trick

Even if he's unsure all these years later if the goal actually went in off of him, Sanderson certainly celebrated as though he scored the goal, which would set up a dramatic third period. 

Nashville again tied the score 5:28 into the final frame, with Kimmo Timonen getting the goal that made it 2-2. The teams stayed tied in front of the packed barn until Sanderson's used a moment of brilliance to give Columbus the lead with 8:30 to go. 

Robert Kron skated the puck behind the net, then Sanderson claimed possession after it skittered into the left-wing corner. Sanderson advanced the puck up the wall to the hashmark but found a potential pass to the onrushing Espen Knutsen cut off, so he doubled back toward the corner. From there, he made a quick cut away from Timonen to get into the faceoff circle, then let go a backhander that got through a screen by Kron and into the net. 

It was immediate jubilation in the downtown arena, with hats raining down as Sanderson pumped both arms and kicked up his right leg in celebration as he skated toward the crowd. As Sanderson moved to the bench to celebrate with teammates, CBJ employees raced onto the ice in skates to pick up the hats, the first ones that would go in the hat trick display on the concourse at Nationwide Arena. 

"That was really neat," Sanderson told reporters in the locker room after the game. "I think we were all wondering how the first hat trick would be received, what the crowd's reaction would be like. Well, it was great. There were a lot of hats out there ... and they aren't exactly cheap anymore." 

Looking back 20 years later, Sanderson knows it's an accomplishment that will continue to stand the test of time. 

"It was pretty exciting," he told Shelley. "I mean, that's about the only one that will never get erased. Once Rick Nash went through there and wiped out everybody's scoring records and the players they have now, but it's exciting. It's a little footnote in Blue Jackets history. It's always going to have a special place for me and my family. My two older boys were just young kids playing in the driveway then. It was a great family place to raise your kids." 

The Blue Jackets went on to win the game by that 3-2 score, and Sanderson finished that first year as the first and only 30-goal scorer on the team by hitting the number on the nose. He'd set a new franchise record with 34 goals two years later, but that total wouldn't last very long -- at just 19 years old, Nash scored 41 goals the next season (2003-04) to establish a new franchise record that he continues to share with Cam Atkinson. 

Sanderson was in the midst of his fourth season in Columbus that season when he was traded to Vancouver on March 9 for a third-round draft pick. His CBJ career wasn't over, though, as the Blue Jackets claimed him on waivers the next summer, but because of the NHL lockout, he wouldn't return to the Nationwide Arena ice until the 2005-06 season. 

He played in just two games that year, though, when he was traded again, this time to Phoenix along with Tim Jackson for Cale Hulse, Ohio native Mike Rupp and Jason Chimera. Sanderson completed his CBJ career with 261 games played, 88 goals, 80 assists in 168 points, a goal total that remains seventh in team history. 

And, forever in CBJ history, the first hat trick 20 years ago today.

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