Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre didn't expect to be a trend setter, but he's glad he is.
When the Blue Jackets defenseman bought a house in the Columbus suburb of New Albany while playing during the franchise's inaugural season, it was simply because he enjoyed living in what was one of the NHL's newest cities.
He's never left, and in the years that have passed since then, he's watched the central Ohio chapter of the Blue Jackets alumni club grow by leaps and bounds. From names like Andrew Cassels and Rick Nash to Jody Shelley and RJ Umberger, it's become common for former Blue Jackets to put down roots in the Columbus area.
From that New Albany home, Grand-Pierre has witnessed how the sport of hockey has put down ever-growing roots in central Ohio just like those CBJ alums. Youth hockey, adult hockey and support of the Blue Jackets have become part of the Columbus culture, and Grand-Pierre had been at the forefront of it.
Once his pro career finally ended in 2013 after nine seasons overseas, Grand-Pierre returned to New Albany for good. One of the most popular alums in team history, Grand-Pierre has become a respected coach in the area and represented the Blue Jackets franchise in the community.
That will only grow given today's announcement that he will join Fox Sports Ohio as the pregame, postgame and intermission analyst on Blue Jackets TV broadcasts, and you can trace that news to the Montreal native's fateful decision back in 2001 to set down roots in Ohio's capital.
"I became friends with a lot of people in that neighborhood and, instead of going back to Montreal in the summer, I actually spent most of my offseason in Columbus and really fell in love with the community overall," he said of that home purchase.
"The main reason I stayed is I just saw something in Columbus that made me feel really comfortable at the time, and even though I played in different cities after that, I always considered Columbus home."
Grand-Pierre said he doesn't consider himself a trailblazer or anything like that for making the choice to stay in central Ohio, but it is a feather in the area's cap to the former defensemen that so many Blue Jackets followed.
That group of CBJ alums have helped the sport grow in Columbus, and the impacts are everywhere. Many have become youth coaches in the area, while others have found their way back into the Blue Jackets organization. Most are quick to help out when the franchise is in need.
It's all a part of the tapestry of hockey being built in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets made even more fans last spring with the franchise's first-round sweep of Tampa Bay. From the booming Chiller Adult Hockey League, one of the biggest adult leagues in the nation, to increased youth participation led in part by the AAA Blue Jackets and a high school community that is starting to make noise on a statewide basis, hockey has become part of the fabric of the area.
It's something Grand-Pierre has seen firsthand since his arrival for the team's inaugural season. Even more, he's been a part of it, from helping create the hockey program at New Albany High School to serving as hockey director at Belfry Hockey to suiting up in the CAHL himself.
"It's been really, really awesome," he said. "You're not really aware of the situation until you actually have kids that play the sport. When (his son, Dennyn) said, 'I want to play hockey,' that's really when I got caught up in the youth hockey part of Columbus and really saw over the past seven to eight years how it's grown in Columbus. You can see it with how many associations and teams are being created.
"Seeing the enthusiasm for youth hockey, high school hockey -- I was part of starting the New Albany High School program six years ago, and my first season, we had nine skaters. Within two years we were a full-blown program with a varsity and a JV team. That's how fast hockey really grew up around Columbus."
At this point, Grand-Pierre is likely an Ohio lifer. His wife, Jennifer, hails from the Cleveland suburb of Sheffield and his daughter, Darby, now teaches in the New Albany district.
And with his new job as the studio analyst at Fox Sports Ohio, Grand-Pierre will be welcomed into homes across the state to talk about the sport. Grand-Pierre, who spent six seasons in the NHL including four years with the Blue Jackets, prepped for the role the past few seasons by dipping his toe into the field of broadcasting, including last year's playoffs when he served as a pregame and intermission analyst on the team's radio network and as part of an in-arena and online video broadcast.
Replacing the legendary Bill Davidge, who had been with the team since the very beginning, will leave big shoes but Grand-Pierre hopes to bring passion and a former player's perspective to the broadcasts.
"I'm really excited to be welcomed into people's living rooms and talk to the fans and see what their perspective is, and at the same time give them what I see from a former player and fan of the team's perspective as well," he said. "It's something that I never thought I would do, especially growing up, but it's something that's really grown and I'm really starting to enjoy that side of the game.
"I'm really excited about it, and I can't wait to get started, honestly."