What a year it has been.
Like most years, 2016 was filled with excitement, disappointment, milestones, and changes. The Blue Jackets closed the book on one season (which we can safely categorize as a disappointment) and began writing the story of another, which, to this point, has featured plenty of excitement.
Change took hold in the form of John Tortorella, hired in 2015 but truly making his mark over the past 12 months. He was part of a milestone - which we will discuss later in this piece - as were several other players who contributed their time and energy to organizational successes on the ice at the NHL level, at the AHL level, and off the ice to make a difference in the lives of people in the central Ohio community.
As we begin to bid farewell to 2016 and welcome the start of 2017, we will reflect on some of our favorite moments from the past year. The current season has given us plenty of moments to consider, but let's not forget there were many memorable moments from the season prior, as well.
Without further ado, our top moments of 2016:
10. Anton Forsberg's first NHL win - in dramatic fashion (Jan. 2)
With Sergei Bobrovsky injured and Curtis McElhinney getting the start in net against the Washington Capitals, rookie goaltender Anton Forsberg had a close-up look at one of the Metro Division's budding rivalries. What he may not have expected, however, was what transpired later in the game; McElhinney left the game with an injury in overtime as the Capitals were about to start a power play…and Forsberg had to come in cold. No pressure, kid.
Not only did he shut down the Capitals power play, but he stopped some of the game's top players in the shootout to give the Blue Jackets a dramatic 5-4 victory.
Video: WSH@CBJ: Forsberg wins game after McElhinney leaves
9. A late rally & a thrilling shootout win (Mar. 22)
Though the Blue Jackets were out of the playoff picture, the Philadelphia Flyers were in the thick of it and they needed points badly. Columbus didn't play its best game through most of regulation and fell behind 2-0, a lead the Flyers would carry deep into the game and, at one point, it seemed as though they would coast to a big win.
With not much going on offensively, the Blue Jackets decided to start throwing pucks on net and take their chances. They broke through with just over a minute left when Boone Jenner's redirection made it a 2-1 game, and with less than 10 seconds remaining, Cam Atkinson tied the game to cap off an improbable late comeback. The Blue Jackets went on to win that game in a shootout, stunning the Flyers and stealing a valuable point in the process.
Video: PHI@CBJ: Jackets score two late goals to tie it
8. Cam Atkinson's "dog trick" (Jan. 25)
A post-holiday promise combined with a three-goal night for Cam Atkinson generated one of the more unforgettable moments of 2016. During the pre-game warmup, young Blue Jackets fan Maddie Wright was spotted on the glass holding a sign proclaiming that if her favorite player scored a goal that night against Montreal, she would get a new dog. Atkinson took it a step further with a hat trick - but Maddie's dad, Brian, wanted to be clear that it didn't mean three dogs. The Wright family worked with a local humane society to adopt "Cam," and the family brought Cam to the arena to meet Atkinson and his fiancée, Natalie.
Video: MTL@CBJ: Atkinson scores hat tick to grant girl a dog
7. Record-setting comeback in Arizona (Dec. 3)
This one could've been mightily frustrating for the Blue Jackets, and at times, it certainly was. Not many players on this year's team were around for Mike Smith's 54-save shutout against them a few years ago, but Blue Jackets fans definitely remembered. Smith was seemingly unbeatable on this Saturday night in Glendale, stopping everything that came his way after a Boone Jenner goal 13 seconds into the game. The Blue Jackets fired a franchise record 60 (!) shots on goal in the game, and late in the third, finally equalized on their 49th shot courtesy of Alexander Wennberg. Curtis McElhinney made two huge saves in overtime and the Blue Jackets got shootout goals from Cam Atkinson and Sam Gagner to seal the deal.
Video: Blue Jackets prevail in shootout vs. Coyotes
6. Zach Werenski's first goal + first OT winner (Oct. 15/Nov. 9)
Tortorella said he knew from watching Zach Werenski during the Calder Cup playoffs that this kid had a chance to be special. He wouldn't guarantee him a roster spot by any means, but planned to give Werenski every opportunity to step in and contribute. It did not take him long; Werenski scored his first NHL goal in his second game on Oct. 15 against the San Jose Sharks, and less than a month later, he scored his first overtime winner on home ice at Nationwide Arena. Locked in a 2-2 game with the Anaheim Ducks, the Blue Jackets used a combination play between two highly-skilled young players to get the win. Alexander Wennberg carried the puck the length of the ice, stopped and spun around to hit Werenski with a pass in the slot, and Werenski quickly transferred the puck from backhand to forehand before Ducks goalie John Gibson could react. It was a thing of beauty.
Video: SJS@CBJ: Werenski snipes first NHL goal on power play
Video: ANA@CBJ: Wennberg spins, sets up Werenski for OT win
5. John Tortorella's 500th career victory (Dec. 18)
Don't tell Torts he's approaching history - he'll tell you just as quickly that he's not too concerned about it. His players were, though, and they knew a win over the Vancouver Canucks meant their coach would etch his name into the NHL record books. It took some overtime (literally), but the Blue Jackets battled back after blowing two third-period leads to win in sudden death on a Seth Jones goal. With the win, Tortorella became the first American-born coach to reach the 500-win mark, and the 24th coach in NHL history to hit the milestone.
Video: CBJ@VAN: Jones buries Atkinson's pass for OT winner
4. Seth Jones arrives in Columbus (Jan. 6)
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen had been searching for more than a year to find a legitimate, top-pairing defenseman to add to his club. Just after the turn of 2016, he found his match with the Nashville Predators, who were looking to add a top-six center to their roster. The deal came together and though it was a 1-for-1 swap, it was one the biggest trades of the NHL season. Columbus sent Ryan Johansen to Nashville and, in exchange, got a 21-year-old top-five pick in Jones who, despite his young age, had learned from some of the game's best defensemen while with the Predators. A decorated junior career under his belt and with international experience at the World Junior, Jones fit like a glove with what the Blue Jackets were/are trying to build on the back end and he's been a key cog in their successful start to 2016-17.
3. Cleveland Monsters win the Calder Cup (June 12)
The backbone of any successful organization rests within its developmental pipeline, and that pipeline has been the focus of Kekalainen and his staff since their arrival nearly four years ago. You have to draft well, sure, but development is even more important to sustain success beginning at the AHL level and on to the NHL. The Blue Jackets built a strong AHL team in Cleveland, and during the first year of their multi-year affiliation agreement with the Monsters, they did something that hadn't been done in over 50 years of Cleveland hockey history. The Monsters went on one of the best Calder Cup playoff runs ever, tearing through the postseason with a 15-2 record to win the first championship in franchise history. What was most exciting for the Blue Jackets was who drove the bus for that Monsters team: it was the young players, the likes of Zach Werenski, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Lukas Sedlak, Anton Forsberg and others who led the charge for Cleveland en route to the title.
Video: Lake Erie Monsters win the 2016 Calder Cup
2. Matt Calvert's unforgettable night vs. the Rangers (Nov. 18)
If you were lucky enough to be at Nationwide Arena on this night, chances are you won't soon forget it. In a showdown against the Metropolitan Divison-leading New York Rangers, the Blue Jackets knew they needed to play one of their best games of the young season in order to get two valuable points from one of their rivals - and the game received a jolt of emotion in the wake of a scary injury. Matt Calvert was struck in the forehead by a Nick Holden slapshot, and after he raced off the ice leaving a pool of blood behind, Calvert required over 30 stitches to seal the wound. And not only did he return to the game, he scored the game-winning goal in the third period. Shorthanded.
Video: Behind The Battle Episode 2: The Matt Calvert story
1. Blue Jackets score 10 goals vs. Montreal Canadiens (Nov. 4)
This was, at the time, the most anticipated game in the early going for the Blue Jackets. Coming off an overtime win over Dallas after a solid California road trip, the Blue Jackets really wanted to start putting wins together - and the league's top team stood in their way. Columbus probably expected to win, but no one expected how this game would play out; the Blue Jackets kept shooting the puck and it kept going in, and they pumped a franchise-record 10 goals into the net in what was, safe to say, the most lopsided game in team history. Sure, it only counts for one game and two points, but add this to the short list of fans' favorite games. We gave the cannon a couple of well-earned days off.
Video: MTL@CBJ: Blue Jackets erupt for 10 goals in win
Our favorite moment, though, is the current run the Blue Jackets are on. They've extended their streak to 15 games after a New Year's Eve win over the red-hot Minnesota Wild, and are atop the NHL standings at 26-5-4. This moment gets its own place because it's not over yet, and we're really looking forward to where this ride will take us.
Happy New Year, friends. Cheers to a terrific 2017.
Video: 14 great plays from the Blue Jackets' record streak