For the first week of training camp, players around Nationwide Arena have constantly referred to the closeness of the group and how excited they were to be back in Columbus with their teammates.
To a man, every player reflects on a close-knit family mentality in the dressing room and on the ice -- and that character doesn’t originate out of thin air.
James Wisniewski is one Jackets veteran balancing the dual roles of full-time father at home and full-time athlete at the rink. For Wisniewski, those responsibilities doubled this summer.
Wisniewski was already a father of a young daughter, Jaime, who’s now a year and a half old. The family welcomed a big addition in July with the birth of their second daughter, Sadie Rose.
Parenthood is always a matter of learning and adjusting on the fly, a task even more challenging considering Wisniewski’s unique line of work.
“My endurance is a little bit higher,” said Wisniewski, when asked how caring for two young children might have added a new wrinkle to his usual off-season regiment. “I go to sleep earlier, and I wake up earlier, too.”
It was certainly an easier transition for Wisniewski to make than when he first became a father, noting that Jamie was born during the postponed start of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Still, any change in family life is a learning experience, and one from which Wisniewski believes he has drawn a lot. One benefit is a levelheaded point of view to endure the ups and downs of a rigorous NHL schedule with high expectations.
“It kind of puts life into perspective to understand what’s really important. Family comes first and you realize you’re just playing a game,” said Wisniewski. “Obviously, it’s your livelihood, but when you come home everyday no matter how bad you played win or lose, you always have a smile when you see your little kids.”
Caring for young children requires any parent to assume a variety of roles, such as teacher, disciplinarian, and advisor. Summed up in a word, good parents are expected to be leaders to the best of their abilities.
Wisniewski, only 30 years old but still the fourth-oldest player on a very young roster, can translate these traits to some degree to his leadership role in the dressing room.
“We’re growing as people. Having children helps you grow and understand the effects you have on people, especially your kids,” Wisniewski said. “You’re raising your kids. Not saying that you’re raising anyone in the locker room, but obviously young guys ask questions so you have to be in a support role and help them through hard times. I remember my first training camp, I was nervous as heck. I go about my own business, but if guys have any questions, I’m an open door.”
There’s no social separation in the Blue Jackets' room between steady, married veterans and the young, starry-eyed rookies just starting to live the dream. In this locker room, players truly do feel a family bond.
“Everyone loves each other here," Wisniewski said. "We’re a brotherhood. It’s fun to be around each other. I think everyone’s excited to get the season started just so we can get back and build that camaraderie again.”