Tim Erixon might have been the new guy in Columbus, but in a way, he felt right at home.
He was at home in Skelleftea, Sweden on a gorgeous European summer day and in the midst of offseason training when he got a phone call. The next chapter of his career was upon him, and he was now a member of the Blue Jackets and part of the Rick Nash mega deal that brought two New York Rangers teammates with him.
Six weeks later, he packed his bags and caught a flight to Ohio for the first time. The season was a month away from starting, but he was going to room with Ryan Johansen down in the Arena District and get some early skates in with his new teammates. Living in Columbus and getting acclimated to the new surroundings was a helpful experience for Erixon, and instrumental in making the transition to a new team and city far less stressful.
"That was so helpful for me, being the new guy and all," Erixon told BlueJackets.com. "I’ve come up and now I know a bunch of the guys from spending time here in the summer and skating a little bit at the rink. I know Joey, and I’ve been living with that guy both in Columbus and Springfield. He’s a great guy and it’s been a good experience.
"The training camp was helpful, too, because everyone gets to know each other and you get to see how everything works here. That was perfect; it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it."
Less than a month after arriving in Columbus, Erixon and Johansen were on another flight -- this time to Springfield, Mass. The Blue Jackets assigned both prospects to their American Hockey League farm team when the NHL lockout began, and it gave both players a chance to stay in game shape and continue their development.
But this was more than an exercise; the Falcons got off to a red-hot start and soared to the top of the division standings, and then the conference standings. They have occupied first place in the entire league on several occasions this season, and though they have lost players to NHL recall, head coach Brad Larsen has kept the team together and focused on their goals.
The most important part of the Springfield experience has been the attention to detail and commitment to development, Erixon said. The management and coaching staff made it clear from day one that every player must be accountable, and must also come ready to work to get where the individual and team wants to go.
"I think we have a very good group there, and we’re a really solid team both on and off the ice," Erixon said. "We practice hard, we’re a tight group and we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success early on in the season. Our coaching staff there with (Larsen), (Nolan Pratt) and (Jared Bednar) is really good for us and they're great teachers.
"They pay attention to the details and are good at balancing development of the individual as well as the team. That’s so important, and I have to give thanks to the coaches in Springfield for what they’ve done for me."
The objective for both the Falcons and Blue Jackets is to create an organizational model with a high level of consistency; the structure and systems are essentially the same at both the AHL and NHL levels, so when players are recalled, there's not a steep learning curve in the event of limited preparation time.
Such was the case earlier this week, when Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault were recalled as the AHL was in its All-Star break. Both players represented the Falcons at the annual event, held this year in Providence, and were named starters for the Eastern Conference.
When they arrived in Columbus late Wednesday, there wasn't much time to get ready for a game the next day, but they didn't feel out of place or "behind" because of the work they put in with Springfield.
"It’s pretty much the same system we have in Springfield, but there are some differences and this is a different team, obviously," Erixon said. "There’s a new coaching staff and stuff, but I think that’s really the only part you have to get used to. There are some small differences, but they did a great job filling me in on those things as soon as I got here.
"It’s just hockey, and at the end of the day, you just have to go out there and play and play your best. I know guys say it all the time, but I loved every single second out there. The result wasn’t what we wanted but it was fun to be out there for the first time (as a Blue Jacket)."