Blue Jackets fans have no trouble remembering the first playoff season in franchise history, and neither does one of the integral parts of that team.
Jan Hejda was a shutdown defenseman who excelled on the top pair that year with Mike Commodore, and that first postseason berth in 2009 is one of the highlights of his NHL tenure. He can remember the way the momentum built throughout the campaign as a relatively young squad, buoyed by some seasoned veterans, came together and got hot in the second half of the season to punch Columbus' ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.
"I remember it very good because it was an unbelievable season," Hejda said in our 20th anniversary interview series Where Are They Now? presented by Huntington Bank. "Every time you're playing for a team which that team is making the playoffs, the feeling is like nobody can stop us. We had that feeling at the end of the season, and I believe the motto was 'Why not us?' I think that's what we had on our shirts. That was the feeling -- why not us?
"Until we played the first round against Detroit, and that was a wakeup call. It was a totally different level, and we were just like looking around, 'What's going on?'"
Of course, Hejda was right, as the Jackets' initial foray into the postseason ended with a humbling sweep against a loaded Detroit team that featured names like Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Franzen, Zetterberg, Hossa, Holmstrom, Maltby and more. But that CBJ team of Hejda, Nash, Umberger, Huselius, Torres, Modin and Commodore, to name a few, is remembered fondly for introducing playoff hockey to the fanbase and making some fond memories.
And it's fair to say Hejda was a key part of it, as the defenseman was a perfect fit in Columbus. The native of the Czech Republic played in his homeland and in Russia before coming to the NHL at age 28 with Edmonton, but CBJ general manager Scott Howson made acquiring him a priority and it paid off handsomely wen Hejda was plus-20 in 2007-08 and plus-23 a year later on the playoff team.
Though he was never a big scorer, Hejda helped solidify the blue line for his four years in Columbus, finishing with an 11-56-67 line and a plus-23 rating in 302 games with the Jackets.
"The reason why I came over to the Blue Jackets obviously was Scott Howson," Hejda said. "When I played in Edmonton, he was the assistant general manager and he brought me over to Columbus. Great coahc, great organization. I have to say, I was with the Oilers and the Blue Jackets and Avalanche and a little bit in Chicago, but I hae to say the way how the Blue Jackets treat players was my best experience."
Hejda played 627 NHL games over nine seasons with Edmonton, Columbus and Colorado, totaling 25 goals and 135 points before his NHL career ended in the 2014-15 season. He now lives in Colorado, where he still works in the hockey world and is watching his son, Matheas, work at his game.
In the interview, which can be seen above, Hejda speaks about his memories in Columbus, his transition from Europe to the NHL, tells a quick story about Commodore and discusses what it's like to be a hockey dad these days.