Jared Boll grew up a Red Wings fan, and you can thank his dad (Pete) for that.
With such an upbringing, it was common knowledge that the Colorado Avalanche were the sworn enemy. And on those star-laden Red Wings teams, there was hardly a shortage of players to look up to.
Boll got an instant dose of both when he first arrived in the Blue Jackets locker room eight years ago as a wide-eyed 20-year-old making the jump from the Ontario Hockey League straight to the NHL.
In the same room stood Sergei Fedorov – a Red Wings legend, Hockey Hall of Famer and one of Boll’s idols growing up – and also Adam Foote, the Blue Jackets’ captain. Foote was one of the hard-nosed leaders on those Avalanche teams that did battle with the Red Wings, so Boll already had an opinion of him (but that would soon change).
Hours before playing his 500th career game against the St. Louis Blues, Boll reflected on those early days and how they helped shape his career.
“I remember seeing Sergei Fedorov and just being in awe watching him,” Boll said. “On the other side, I remember seeing Adam Foote and how much I hated watching him play because of the Avalanche-Red Wings rivalry. He ended up being one of the best guys when I first got here, and made me feel at home.
“That’s what I look back on in my rookie years, is the older guys like Jody (Shelley), Fedorov and (Foote), (Michael) Peca, (Fredrik) Modin…they made you feel welcome and comfortable. That’s what I try and pass along to the younger guys when they come in here.”
And in an industry where change is the norm, Boll has been one of the Blue Jackets’ constants and also one of their best ambassadors. Each of his 500 NHL games will have been spent with the Blue Jackets, who selected him in the fourth round (No. 101 overall) in 2005, and game No. 500 just so happens to come against the coach who first gave him a chance.
Ken Hitchcock loved his gritty, heavy game, and Boll made the team out of training camp along with defenseman Kris Russell, and the two rookies became fast friends. Boll’s NHL debut came at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 5, 2007 in a 4-0 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
He finished his rookie season having played in 75 of the Blue Jackets’ 82 games.
“It seems like I’ve been here a long time, but at the same time, it flies by,” Boll said. “It’s been great every day and it’s pretty cool. (Hitchcock) was the first coach I had, and he taught me a lot about what it takes to play in this league – not just play a couple of years, but to stick in this league.
“He was a big part of my career. It’s kind of funny that we just happen to be playing against him tonight.”
Flash forward to 2015 and the journey is a source of pride for Boll, who has never had the luxury of a guaranteed spot in the lineup. The physical element of his game has always been there, but in recent years, Boll has been open and honest about his need to get faster in order to keep up with today’s game – and he’s willingly shortened his summers to work toward that.
His new coach has been on the job for three weeks and it took a while for Boll to get into the lineup, but John Tortorella wants to keep him there.
“He’s been involved,” Tortorella said. “You think of Boller and it’s the banging and the fighting, obviously, but he’s done the job on the wall. He’s made plays. Their line was a big reason why we win that game (against Arizona) because of what they did in front of the net in the second period and I think it re-energized our team.
“Do you want to see him play faster? Yeah, but he’s working at it. He’s working at his game in practice. He was one of the last ones I put in the lineup, and just through his play, I haven’t been able to take him out. He’s done a good job.”