Blue Jackets Air was a bit lighter than usual following Monday’s game in Pittsburgh.
And it was for good reason. With the NHL’s mandated three-day Christmas break on the horizon, many of the players, coaches and staff spread across North America to spend the holidays with their families and close friends.
Some players opted to take the team flight back to Columbus before flying out the next day, while others stayed behind to take flights out of Pittsburgh, or in Brandon Saad’s case, to get a ride home from his parents, George and Sandra.
The Saad family is spending Christmas together in their suburban Pittsburgh home this year, and among their blessings is that their son has the opportunity to play closer to home. Not that Chicago was excruciatingly far from Pittsburgh, but there’s something different and reassuring about a three-hour drive over on I-70.
One of the Blue Jackets who had an early morning flight out of Columbus is Ryan Johansen, who admits the travel schedule to and from Vancouver is a bit taxing, but well worth it to spend a couple of days with his parents and younger brother, Lucas, who’s home from playing junior hockey with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.
“It means a lot to my parents for both my brother and I to be home for Christmas,” Johansen said. “It’s a no-brainer for me to go home and spend some time with them, and thankfully we have this nice little break that allows us to do that.
“We’re grateful. It’s a great opportunity for some of us who live far away to get home and spend time with our families at an important time of the year. It’s a short stay, but we’ll make the most of it.”
One year ago, Alexander Wennberg flew to New York City to spend Christmas with his family, who flew over from Sweden. This year, they’re going to make it slightly easier on Wennberg by meeting up in Orlando – mom, dad and sister – to spend a few days in warm weather (though it’s hardly wintry in central Ohio these days), get a couple rounds of golf in, and relax before heading to Tampa for Saturday’s first game post-Christmas.
Wennberg’s good buddy and fellow Swede, William Karlsson, will be spending Christmas with Boone Jenner on his family’s farm in Dorchester, Ontario.
“Good guy Boone Jenner,” Karlsson said. “I’m looking forward to it. They didn’t want me to be alone on Christmas and invited me to spend it with their family. It’s very kind of them to do.”
Back in Columbus, goaltender Curtis McElhinney and his family are staying put in Columbus and they couldn’t be more thrilled. The Blue Jackets’ schedule has not been kind in terms of time off and thus time to spend with family, so the McElhinneys are posting up in German Village.
McElhinney and his wife, Ashleigh, are actively involved in charitable endeavors around the Columbus area, and Ashleigh recently helped assemble a toy drive at the Ohio State Fairgrounds using toys from 10TV’s Big Toy Drive, which concluded at Nationwide Arena on Dec. 4.
Combining the 6,000 toys collected by the Big Toy Drive and other external contributions, over 20,000 toys were donated this holiday season, enough to help more than 6,000 local families in need put toys under the tree.
And speaking of trees, McElhinney is happy to report an incident-free procurement of the family Christmas tree this year.
“Many years ago – when I was a lot younger – I accidentally tied the tree on the roof my car backwards,” he said. “I drove all the way home and didn’t notice. Thankfully, I made it safely.”
“I wish I had some cool story like I went out in the woods, in the brutal cold, chopped my own tree down and hauled it back to house. That would’ve been awesome. Sadly, I don’t.”