There is perhaps no time during the first half of the NHL season more exciting than the team's home opener. For the first time in months, fans who have waited patiently will be reunited with the players who have trained diligently all off-season. To both, the home opener simply means one thing: hockey is back.
For the Blue Jackets, their home opener Saturday night will be accompanied with some of the highest expectations in franchise history. Following the club's first-ever appearance in the post season last year, the Jackets hope to take the next step this season as Saturday will be their first chance to prove that they've made the necessary adjustments.
"I think you always go into opening night wondering if you've done enough to get ready," Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You always wonder if your team is going to play the right way. For me right now, I think this is the most ready the team has been since I've run through training camp with them."
The players know the influence the home opener has on the first several games of the year and believe that the fans will be behind them to help start the season in the right direction.
"You want to start on the right foot so you can carry momentum into the season," defenseman Rostislav Klesla said. "The fans are going to be excited, the house is going to be rocking, and we're looking for a big win."
"I think there are a lot of emotions involved," left wing R.J. Umberger said. "From a player's standpoint they're excited, they want to put on a good show for the fans. The adrenaline rush is a little more than say, game three."
While the Jackets will enjoy the benefit of starting the season with their own home opener, they will be in a unique situation where they will then be the visiting team in three-consecutive home openers at Vancouver, San Jose, and Phoenix.
"It's tough," Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said. "Home openers are always exciting and obviously we're going to have a lot of juice for ours, but going into other buildings makes it tough."
For the Jackets it will not only be a matter of battling an enthusiastic away crowd, but also a matter of battling their own nerves while trying to stick with the game plan. The Jackets ability to keep their cool will be particularly important against Vancouver and San Jose, both of which won their respective divisions last season.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us," Umberger said. "Opening at home is good for us, but when we go on the road, we will have to play a simple game plan, try to dictate the style of play of the first period and take the crowd out of it."
"You try to play smart and don't let their emotions carry into the game," said Klesla on playing on the road. "You can't allow their momentum to hit you that much so you can still play your game."
Regardless of where the games are played, the players and coaches are excited to get the season underway and hopefully play towards the postseason yet again.
"It's a fun time anytime you get hockey season going again," said left wing Jason Chimera. "I know up in Canada it's a religion, so it's exciting to get going."
"I view the start of the season as something special," Hitchcock said. "I just view the start of the season as a great moment."