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CBJ Today: Talkin' about practice

Some observations on what it's like to watch an NHL team get its daily work in

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Each weekday this season, will post CBJ Today, a look at news, notes, analysis and fun stuff from around the Blue Jackets world. It's everything you need to know if you're a fan going into the day. 

The Daily Buzz 

If it's Thursday, it's a CBJ gameday. (This is eighth Thursday in a row the Blue Jackets have a game scheduled, and seven more are expected to follow). Columbus takes on a Dallas team that is struggling with just one win in its last 10 games, a streak that dates back to the Blue Jackets' 4-3 win over the Stars in Nationwide Arena on Feb. 4. 

Practice Vibes 

I'll be honest, I don't have a ton of news to cover today, so let's talk about practice. 

(It's impossible to talk about practice without making a "We're talkin' about practice" joke, right?) 

Anyway, now that that reference is out of the way, one of the fun things this job affords is the chance to go to practice. As a beat writer, it gives you an insight on what is happening with the team -- who might be skating with who, who is coming back from injury, and things like that.  

But it's also at times hard to draw a ton of conclusions from it if you're not a hockey coach. Sometimes I get asked, "How is so-and-so looking in practice?" It's often a hard question to answer, because so often drills are designed to work on certain skills or concepts, and there's just rarely a ton of 5-on-5 play. 

This is a big departure from when I covered Ohio State football, whose preseason practices were often more than two hours long and usually split up between position drills and at least a half an hour of actual scrimmaging. Rarely do the Blue Jackets practice for more than an hour (it's 60 minutes tops during the season), and the closest you'll see to actual hockey is when the team needs to work on, say, structure in the defensive zone. Or special teams, which does bear a resemblance to actual game play.

Now, I'm sure a wise observer -- aka a coach -- can take a lot more from a specific practice than a scribe like myself. When I first took this job, I asked Bill Davidge -- a coach of many years who was serving as a team broadcaster at that point -- what he's looking for in a practice, and that was quite helpful, but sometimes, some of it is beyond my pay grade. 

One thing that is fun, though, is to watch the interplay between teammates. During Wednesday's practice, which featured Gus Nyquist's return to a full team practice as he rehabs from shoulder surgery, the team gave him a full stick tap welcome, then Riley Nash pushed him to the center of the pre-practice stretch. Smiles abounded, as they did throughout practice whenever Nyquist did a drill and then was ribbed by his teammates, who were clearly happy to have him back.  

It's also fun how players always celebrate a great goal scored by a teammate, and players often bring out their best exaggerated celebration whenever they score on one another. (Poor David Savard hasn't scored in a game since his famous goal vs. Tampa in the playoffs two years ago, but his celebratory stick twirls are a common sight in practice). Wednesday, Scott Harrington scored on a bar-down snipe that drew a raucous set of stick taps from his teammates.  

And in a time of trouble, such as recently when the Jackets were in a five-game losing skid, practice is a chance to reset the mood. Cam Atkinson, perhaps the hottest Blue Jacket on a team of players going through cold stretches, said he tried to do just that Tuesday during the team's morning skate. 

"I try to especially in practice just laugh and make silly noises and stuff like that, listen to fun music before practice or the game or whatever it is to get the boys to loosen up," he said. 

Whatever he did Tuesday, it seemed like it worked. Maybe Wednesday will have the same impact, as the Jackets held a spirited but short practice punctuated by a small-ice game, with the nets set on each blue line and players having to get creative to score goals in tight spaces. It was hectic, engaging and looked like a heck of a lot of fun, especially when Vladislav Gavrikov won it for his team with a shootout tally, then grabbed the off-ice officials' phone to add to his usual goal celebration.  

Tweet from @JacketsInsider: Which meant it was time to make a call. What a beauty. #CBJ

"Yeah, somebody called and I just answered," the always deadpan Russian defenseman said with a laugh after practice. 

I may not always know what's going on, but I know when a team has having a good time in practice. Wednesday was just that. 

More Tickets on Sale 

The big news Tuesday, of course, was the return of just under 2,000 fans to Nationwide Arena for the win over Detroit. And if you had some FOMO, some good news could be on the way. 

The team announced Wednesday that more tickets are going on sale now that the state of Ohio announced that indoor arenas across the state have been approved to welcome up to 25 percent of their seating capacities to their venues. Tuesday's attendance of 1,953 fans was based off a model allowing 10 percent of capacity, but the venue can hold up to close to 25 percent of its capacity while maintaining social distancing protocols, arena associate GM Derek Smith told reporters last week. 

A presale for season ticket holders will begin today (check your email if you haven't yet), followed by mini-plan holders, group ticket leaders and subscribers to the team email newsletter Flag Bearer (subscribe here if you haven't yet; there's lots of good info, and it'll make our email guru Kelly happy).  

But there also will be a public sale starting Saturday at 9 a.m. for single-game tickets. Somehow, someway, if you want tickets, there is an avenue to get them. 

For full details, click here to read yesterday's press release, but we can't wait to see more of you in Nationwide Arena for the last 15 home games of the regular season. 

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