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Elated fans capture "sneak peek" of old favorites, new additions

by Staci Pawlak / Columbus Blue Jackets

The players weren’t the only ones to return to the rink in the past few days – fans showed up at the OhioHealth Ice Haus just to capture a glimpse of some of their favorite NHLers for the first time in months.

“They look energized; they look like they’re ready to go,” said Jessica Watson, a season ticket holder for four years and member of Arch City Army, a community of Blue Jackets fans who support the team at games and at events outside of Nationwide Arena.

“It’s gonna be really interesting to see when the whole team is here, when the coaching staff is here… it will be interesting to see them build up.”

Today’s excursion to see the players practice constituted a family affair for the Watsons: Watson’s five-year old daughter and Derek Dorsett fanatic, Lily, as well as Watson’s mother-in-law were with her to welcome the players back to Columbus.

“She’s been dying to come. She woke up Sunday morning, and she put that jersey on,” Watson said about Lily’s excitement to have hockey back.

Photo: Derek Dorsett signs Lily Watson's shirt after practicing with several players at the Ice Haus.

Watson’s mother-in-law, more affectionately known to Lily as “Grandma Hockey,” has been a season ticket holder since the inaugural season. For this family, Blue Jackets games are a way for them to come together and share their mutual passion for hockey.

“Hockey is definitely a family event for us – it’s in our blood, it’s what we love,” Watson said. “It’s just good to be back. It’s good to have that camaraderie again. It’s like a home to us.”

The Watson family weren’t the only fans to make an appearance at the Ice Haus on Wednesday. Chris Blake and his wife also came out to the practice to snap pictures of their favorite players and see some of the new additions to the team this season.

“Whenever we can, we will be here just to support the guys and watch them,” Blake said.

Brian Klein, one of the founders of the Arch City Army, was also taking in the practice. Klein was a little lost for words when trying to describe his excitement for the new season.

“I pretty much haven’t slept since – well – ever since Sunday morning,” Klein said with a laugh.

Klein first heard the happy news on Facebook during a drive back from an overnight volunteer event. He only slept for an hour and a half that day – immediately going to work to mobilize Arch City Army and to “get everyone pumped on our end as much as we can.”

“We support the players no matter what,” Klein said. “We want to make sure we’re just out here, and they see us, and they see us consistently.”

Part of the Arch City Army’s goal is to build the Blue Jackets fan base in Columbus and to show the players that the city supports hockey.

“It’s something I’ve said for a while – we’re one of 30 lucky cities to have a hockey team,” said Klein. “We’re lucky to have that ability to lure that team here and to continue being able to watch them – it’s’s awesome.”

As the players continue to practice this week at the Ice Haus, more fans have come out to watch the team reunite on the ice. For many of these fans, they have kept hockey alive by watching AHL games or checking out the college hockey scene in Columbus, but nothing quite compared to seeing their hometown Blue Jackets.

“We’re just glad to be back. We’re just glad they’re back,” Watson said, a sentiment that was echoed by many other fans.

After a moment of thought, she added, “I go into every season expecting great things, but I’m expecting great things this year.”

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