Before the Blue Jackets begin their 2015-16 campaign on Friday night against the New York Rangers, they will be spending some significant quality time together.
They'll practice two days in Cleveland (Tuesday and Wednesday), and on Tuesday afternoon, they have team bonding activities planned. It's all part of fostering the feel of togetherness before embarking on an 82-game -- and hopefully longer -- journey that demands a strong internal support system.
But those events are not without a purpose, because what the players do off the ice this week is just as important as what they do on the ice.
“It’s a bonding thing,” captain Nick Foligno said of this week’s activities. “We want to get together and really start the season off the right way. There’s no better way than to enjoy yourself than to let loose a little bit, and I think it’s going to be great for everyone.”
The busy week kicked off Monday with the team’s annual golf outing at Double Eagle Club in Galena. The outing benefits the Blue Jackets Foundation, and Foligno said the event is a great opportunity for the players, newcomers and veterans alike, to bond in a stress-free environment.
“I think that’s the best way to get to know one another, is when you let your guard down,” Foligno said. “It’s not so much in a controlled setting, it’s more of a relaxed atmosphere. We have some new faces and, even for the guys who have been around for a while, it’s always fun to get together and have that relaxed atmosphere.”
Newcomer Gregory Campbell agreed, and mentioned that the team spending time together outside of the hockey environment provides a great outlet to get to know his new teammates.
“I think I can acclimate myself a little bit and spend some time with the guys away from the rink," Campbell said. "It’s really important, not only being new, but just so we can come together as a group. I know a lot of guys have been here together (for a while) and it seems like a super close group, but things like this kind of get everybody out of their comfort zone.”
While in Cleveland, the Blue Jackets will skate at the OBM Arena (the official practice facility of the Lake Erie Monsters, the team’s new AHL affiliate) in nearby Strongsville.
“I’ve heard lots of great things and I was up there at one point this summer,” Foligno said. “I was really impressed with Cleveland and the facility they have there, so I’m looking forward to getting there and continuing to strengthen our ties with Cleveland, and I think all the guys are looking forward to it.”
The Blue Jackets’ practices are expected to begin around 9:45 a.m. and will last until 11 a.m. The sessions are free and open to the public.
“I’m excited for the week – to get away for a bit, but also to still have that focus,” Campbell said. “I think it’s also important, we do have two big games coming up, and a pretty heavy schedule, so it’ll be good for us to get some practices in and it’s an important week for us, the last tune-up week, and make sure everything’s firing.”
The term "team building activities" is fairly wide-ranging; in previous years, the Blue Jackets have taken a trip to Miami University in Oxford, they've played paintball, and for a more relaxing outlet, they got together for a team cookout.
“If we can do some other things, away from the game, and maybe learn some things about one another that we wouldn’t know normally, I think that helps us with the chemistry and camaraderie of the team,” Campbell added.
Following Wednesday’s practice, the Blue Jackets will travel back to Columbus for one more on-ice practice session before Friday's opener.
And while the players are excited for a fun week, the focus hasn't changed.
“It’s still obviously geared towards something,” Foligno said. “We’re not just going and blowing it out for three days here, it’s for a purpose. I think our focus is always going to be on Friday and then beyond that, so in the back of everyone’s mind, and even though we’re going to enjoy ourselves right now, the focus is to be geared up for Friday and I think every guy is taking that pretty seriously.”