COLUMBUS, OHIO – The Columbus Blue Jackets, the National Hockey League and USA Hockey are celebrating the game during the month of February. The NHL has designated February as "Hockey Is For Everyone" month to recognize the growing diversity of the game's participants and fans. For the second-straight year, USA Hockey is celebrating "Hockey Weekend Across America" from February 13-15. To celebrate both, the Blue Jackets and Chiller Ice Rinks will be involved in a number of events and initiatives recognizing the game and those individuals playing important roles in its growth and development in Central Ohio.
During each of seven home games in February, the Blue Jackets will recognize individuals who are part of a growing hockey community in Columbus by inviting them to join the team's starting lineup on the ice for the playing of the National Anthem. The lineup for the month includes:
Feb. 3 – Clark Cristofoli (first AAA Blue Jackets player to commit to playing at Ohio State University)
Feb. 7 – Herman and Sheri Jones (husband and wife who play and are Junior Jackets instructors)
Feb. 10 – Kris Pace (member of Columbus Ice Hockey Club, the local diversity task force team)
Feb. 13 – A member of the Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association
Feb. 16 – Michele Tonnessen (former Gahanna High School player now on scholarship at Ohio State)
Feb. 18 – A member of the Capital Amateur Hockey Association
Feb. 21 – A member of the Easton Youth Hockey Association.
Friday, February 13 is USA Hockey's Wear Your Jersey Day in which all players and fans are encouraged to wear their jerseys to school or work that day and then to that night’s game at Nationwide Arena between the Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings.
On Saturday, February 14, the Chiller Ice Rinks will be conducting Free Beginner Clinics for kids ages 6-12 who are not currently registered in classes or members of a local hockey association. The clinics will be held at the following times at the respective Chiller locations – 9 to 10:45 a.m. (Easton, 3600 Chiller Lane), 10 to 10:45 a.m. (Dublin, 7001 Dublin Park Dr.) and 12:15 to 1 p.m. (North, 8144 Highfield Dr. in Lewis Center). In addition, all Chiller Ice Rinks will be working with local youth associations and hosting Bring a Friend to the Rink Day that day as guests will be able to attend public skating sessions at a reduced cost.
The Annual Blue Jackets Cup Tournaments featuring area high school teams will be held at the Dispatch Ice Haus, official practice rink of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Chiller Ice Rinks in February. The Varsity Division Tournament will be held the weekend of February 13-15, while the Club Division Tournament will be held from February 19-22.
The Columbus Ice Hockey Club, which was founded in 1999 as part of the NHL's Diversity Task Force program and is an official Hockey Is For Everyone program, will send five teams to the Hockey in the Hood Tournament being held in Detroit the weekend of February 13-15. The tournament will feature teams from 11 cities. In addition, the club will play three games at Nationwide Arena on Thursday, February 19. NHL Diversity was founded in 1995 to provide support and unique programming to not-for-profit youth hockey organizations across North America committed to offering economically disadvantaged boys and girls of all ages opportunities to play hockey.
In the past two decades, Central Ohio has seen remarkable growth in the popularity of hockey. In 1991, there were two sheets of ice in the Columbus-area: The Ohio State University Ice Rink and the Ohio Expo Center, which was home to the ECHL's Columbus Chill. Today, there are 13 sheets of ice. In 1994, there were three organizations playing hockey in Columbus: the Ohio State men's hockey team, Upper Arlington High School hockey team and the Capital Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA). Today, there are five youth organizations; 17 high school hockey programs making up 27 varsity, junior varsity or club teams; the Ohio State men's and women's hockey teams; the Chiller Adult Hockey League; the Chiller Sting all-women's hockey program; and the Junior Jackets Learn to Play program.
In 1999, there were 150 youth and over 350 adult registered hockey players in the Columbus-area. In 2009, there are over 4,500 youth and 1,500 adult registered players. In addition, the number of adult league teams has grown from 25 to over 100 during that time. Over 2,500 area kids are currently in the Junior Jackets Learn to Play program, which has seen a 15 percent rate of growth since its inception in 2002.
The Blue Jackets return to action tonight when they host the St. Louis Blues at Nationwide Arena at 7 p.m. ET. Live coverage on FOX Sports Ohio will begin with the Blue Jackets Live pre-game show starting at 6:30 p.m. The game will also broadcast live on the Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Blue Jackets Radio Network and flagship station WWCD-FM, CD101 beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets for 2008-09 regular season home games are on sale now at the Nationwide Arena Ticket Office, FOX Sports Ohio Blue Line at The Mall at Tuttle Crossing, The Chiller Ice Rinks and all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers. Fans can purchase tickets by phone at (800) 745-3000 or online at www.BlueJackets.com and www.ticketmaster.com. For information on season tickets, mini-plans or group tickets, call (614) 246-PUCK or 800-NHL-COLS.