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Informal skates give Blue Jackets a head start on new season

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Hockey fans aren’t the only ones energized by the sounds of pucks hitting boards and skates scraping ice in the OhioHealth Ice Haus.

Count the Blue Jackets players in that group. They’re fired up.

In larger numbers than years past, players have returned to Columbus in advance of the season to skate with their teammates and get a head start before training camp opens on Sept. 18. That group has grown to nearly 25 this week, and more are expected as the calendar now flips to September.

Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno (who became a father for the second time last week when son Landon Nicholas was born on Wednesday) has been spearheading this year’s practices with some outside assistance, as well.

Just this week, Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program director and head coach Ed Gingher put the guys through the paces in an hour-plus session on the practice ice – and while the conditioning and physical work is a plus, Foligno said, the real benefit is getting to see familiar faces and also getting back to work.

“We already have a tight-knit group and most of us have played together a few years now, but any time you’re away from each other for a few months, it’s good to get back together and train the way we’re used to,” Foligno told “It’s a camaraderie builder, for sure. Teams that are successful have that and they’re able to gel. We need to have that, too, and I think we can get there and this hopefully gives us a head start.

“You’re seeing that, just naturally, guys want to come back earlier and this room is fuller now than it’s been at this time since I’ve been here. It’s great to see. Everyone’s really excited to get our season going and this is a good indication.”

Ryan Johansen returned in mid-August, Ryan Murray has been here intermittently throughout the summer along with Boone Jenner, Dalton Prout, Brandon Dubinsky and several others. Brandon Saad is on his way from Pittsburgh within the next week. Alexander Wennberg, Cam Atkinson, Rene Bourque, Sergei Bobrovsky and Kevin Connauton have arrived in the past couple weeks, as well, and the Blue Jackets dressing room has gone from half-full to standing room only in short order.

Training camp is a little more than two weeks away, but there’s no better time to get back to hockey routines and habits, Foligno said.

“Once it gets down to crunch time – and we’re getting there now – you need to get back and get acclimated as soon as possible,” Foligno said. “You need to get into a certain mindset and a certain routine again, and it really helps you get ready for the season. You’re seeing that from the guys here. I haven’t had to preach it too much because we have guys in here every day that want to get ready for the season, and that want to be part of this.

“It says a lot about our team. This is an exciting time because there’s optimism and hope. These skates that we’ve had the last couple of weeks have only brought us closer together and made us hungrier to get this thing going.”

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