As the moms greeted one another with hugs Thursday night, it was obvious a special new tradition was beginning for the Blue Jackets.
"I have been waiting on this for so long," Amy Jones, the mother of All-Star defenseman Seth Jones, said before Thursday's game. "This whole past week, each day, I got more and more anxious to get here. Then I get here and I'm so excited."
The Blue Jackets have hosted a dads' trip in recent seasons, and two years ago, Jones floated the idea of a moms' trip. She and some other mothers then kept at it, pushing team officials both in person and through text. Finally, the decision was made -- it was time to make it happen.
Thirteen moms -- Jones, Michelle Anderson (Josh), Ellen Atkinson (Cam), Heidi Dubinsky (Brandon), Jill Dubois (Pierre-Luc), Dominique Raphael (Anthony Duclair), Cindy Harrington (Scott), Terri Jenner (Boone), Sharon Murray (Ryan), Shannon Nash (Riley), Celine Lamy (David Savard), Catharina Wennberg (Alexander) and Kristen Werenski (Zach) -- are on the trip.
Also present are Lisa Carey and Cara Murphy, Nick Foligno's sisters, who are representing the Foligno family after their mother, Janis, passed away of breast cancer in 2009. Cheryl Kelsey, the Minnesota-based aunt of Danish forward Oliver Bjorkstrand, also is in attendance.
They came from as far as Sweden in the case of Catharina Wennberg and as close as Kristen Werenski, who only has to drive about three hours or so from the Detroit suburbs to see not only Zach but his roommate Brad, who also happens to be his brother.
Perhaps the most impressive bit of travel, though, was undertaken by Ellen Atkinson. The Connecticut native hates to fly, but she made the trip alone to Columbus for the event.
"I am so afraid," she said with a laugh. "In fact, Cam and (his wife) Nat were both shocked that I made it here on my own. I have always been afraid to fly, and I have four flights in four days!"
A self-described mama's boy, Cam wouldn't have it any other way, even if he joked his mom is likely more excited to see her new grandson, Declan, than to see Cam play hockey.
"I think for the most part, your moms are the ones that raise you and do all the travel with you other than if your dad coached you growing up," Cam said. "I love my mom. I think it's cool for her to be in this environment, especially as a professional and not as a young kid in high school or whatnot."
Ellen also was one of the most popular moms upon her arrival because she had pink shirts made for each mom with their son's number on them. Thursday, the moms wore the pink shirts under their custom-made Blue Jackets sweaters, which was fitting on Valentine's Day.
"Pink is my favorite color and everybody knows it," the mother of five boys said. "In fact, I painted my walls pink when the boys were little to help them calm down, with so many boys in the family. With it being Valentine's Day and bringing all the moms together, I just thought it would be fun to do."
"She outdid us all," Amy Jones said with a laugh.
Perhaps no CBJ mother is as well-known as Jones, who keeps a robust Twitter presence, where her Twitter bio refers to her as the "Jones family CEO," and that includes Seth's brother Caleb, who debuted with the Edmonton Oilers this year.
Seth, whose father Popeye had a long career in the NBA that took him from city to city during his playing days, says that's a fitting description.
"She deserves that title," Seth said. "She is definitely the rock of the family. She has a great personality, and she's taught me how to grow up and be a man and things outside of hockey that I take with me. She's great."
After all, hockey players don't just happen. The work behind the scenes began early with skating lessons and eventually graduated to travel and junior hockey, with games and practices mixed in each night and weekend in throughout the years.
"Are you kidding me?" Amy Jones said. "I feel like at least in my case, and I know with probably every other mom in here, we were part of that whole journey. We paid the price. We got up at 4:30 in the morning, we did the driving. If someone broke their wrist or ended up in the hospital with stitches, the losses, the wins, the disappointments, the benchings, you as a parent and in particular a mother, you are going through all those emotions with them -- probably more so.
"It's really your journey as well, and to see them succeed and their success, it wasn't easy. They sacrificed in middle school, they sacrificed in high school. They didn't get to go to football games. There's so many things they sacrificed to make it here. To see it pay off and all the success and everything that comes along with it … it's emotional and it feels so good."
Cindy Harrington, the mother of defenseman Scott Harrington, echoed those thoughts. The Harringtons' daughter Holly also played hockey growing up, and the family was always on the go.
"Between my husband and I, someone was going somewhere," she said. "Every weekend, my husband did all the early-morning practices, but it was good. It was a lot of time invested, but it was a lot of good quality time."
At the end of the day, a hockey mom is a hockey mom, a bond the 16 women who boarded the Blue Jackets' flight to the Windy City share. Even Carey and Murphy, Foligno's sisters, grew up in a hockey family as their father, Mike, had an 15-year NHL career, and Nick's brother Marcus also plays in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild.
Since the passing of Janis Foligno, a tight family has become even more close.
"They have become the mother figures in my life," Foligno said of his two older sisters. "(This trip) was my way of saying thank you. I asked the team, I know it sucks to bring two, but I couldn't pick between the two of them. It was either both of them or no one. I wanted them to see what I do, and also it's a way to say thank you. That's the coolest part of this trip."
Now the Blue Jackets' extended family must conquer Chicago. The players and moms will have dinner Friday night at an Italian restaurant in town, with Foligno giving a speech ("Can't break bread in an Italian restaurant without a toast," he joked).
Then there's an excursion to the John Hancock Center observation deck on Saturday before the game at the United Center. What impact will it make to have the moms in attendance?
"To have your mom watching you play and travel with you, I think it's fantastic," said head coach John Tortorella, who said he did a gauntlet of walking with the team moms before practice Friday. "We have to come back and answer tomorrow night (after Thursday's loss). Having their moms in the stands I'm sure will help us tremendously, I think more so than dads.
"If I'm in that position and my mom was there vs. my dad, your dad is gonna coach you or be a little critical, your mom is just pulling for you. I think it'll be really good for us."
Through Friday, the bonds of family have helped make the Blue Jackets' first-ever mother's trip a success. By the end of the weekend, those families will be even closer than they were at the start.
"We've just had so much fun," Amy Jones said. "It's so special. It's better than expected. We're all having a really good time. Everyone's personalities are coming out. We're having a blast loosening up. Dinner tonight and the game tomorrow is gonna be off the charts."