With guest appearances from Jody Shelley, Brandon Dubinsky and GM Jarmo Kekalainen, plus signed jersey giveaways, an assortment of delicious food and a stocked bar, this year's Hockey N Heels event had everything -- except for the heels.
Despite its name, Hockey N Heels (presented by Meyers Jewelers) is a very casual event. Fans showed up to the sold-out event wearing jerseys, sweatshirts and other Blue Jackets attire -- they were ready for a big game against the San Jose Sharks.
This year's crowd asked a wide variety of questions, everything ranging from Brandon Dubinsky's endorsement deals to the designation and responsibilities of F1, F2 and F3 on the forecheck. For the participants, this breadth of questions is part of what makes this a special event.
"They don't talk down to you if you ask a basic question," said second-time attendee Austin Ruedrich. "There's a perception that girls know less about hockey, but you can see among the people who were here that it's a really knowledgeable group of girls."
Ruedrich had so much fun at last year's event that she decided to bring along a special guest this time -- her mother, Claudia. It was a birthday present for Claudia, but the invitation did come with a bit of a caveat.
"I thought that it would be a lot dressier, but Austin cautioned me that it wasn't," said Claudia. "I thought that it was great, I would certainly come back next year."
A new half-season ticket holder, Claudia is still learning the sport, so she appreciated the chance to pick the brains of the speakers. In addition to Dubinsky and Shelley, there were also sessions with Kekalainen and assistant GM Bill Zito, assistant coach Brad Larsen, and the NHL referees assigned to that night's game.
"It makes me feel smarter than my husband, who knows nothing about hockey," Claudia said with a laugh. "I really enjoyed it, and I think it bolsters my confidence a bit."
To Claudia and Austin, one speaker in particular stood out from the rest.
"Jody Shelley is just so personable," said Austin. "It's really nice to have someone like that involved with the team. He's just so down-to-earth."
Shelley seemed to draw the most laughs during his session. He told stories about his time as a player, and shed light on a variety of topics, from Boone Jenner's "agitator" reputation to his transition from radio to television. At one point, he even performed a spot-on impression of radio play-by-play announcer Bob McElligott.
Shelley's style is exactly what event organizer Becky Magaw looks for in a speaker.
"We try to schedule people who are gregarious, where we don't have to pull a lot out of them," said Magaw. "The candidness of the whole event makes it really fun, and you never know what you're going to get."
That candidness was on full display Saturday night when the NHL officials took the stage. One of the fans in attendance proudly showed off a novelty towel with the words "Ref, you suck!" in bold lettering. The whole room erupted with laughter, including the NHL officials.
"Well, looks like one of you came prepared," quipped one of the referees.
Magaw and Blue Jackets director of communications Karen Davis took over Hockey N Heels four years ago, and under their management, the event has thrived. They had to move to a bigger venue to accommodate more participants, and the event continued to sell out. This year, the event sold out a week earlier than usual, before the player guest was even announced.
This growth is a good start, but Magaw has some ideas for the event's future.
"Some day, I'd love to incorporate an on-ice aspect to Hockey N Heels," said Magaw. "I think that, once the interest is there, it would be great to morph this into a two-day event."
For now, though, Magaw and Davis are focused on making the event as fun and informative as possible.
"(Hockey N Heels) provides a forum for women to come together and ask a wide variety of questions," said Magaw. "From women who play the game to women who are maybe at their first game, we really just want to provide a fun night of food, drinks and hockey."
Running Hockey N Heels actually falls outside of Magaw's regular responsibilities with the Blue Jackets -- it's more of a project of passion -- and what's equally encouraging outside of the event's growth is that there's a large number of return attendees.
Roughly half of this year's attendees are return participants. While there's some stigma with the "Hockey N Heels" moniker, Magaw believes that the event's success supercedes its name.
"To all of the people who maybe scoff at it when they see the initial advertising, I really encourage them to check it out," said Magaw. "Don't make your opinion based on the name. I think we offer more than meets the eye."