John Davidson is a Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster and has seen a lot in the game of hockey. His assignments include over 20 All-Star Games, Stanley Cup Finals, the Olympic Winter Games and countless others – so he knows a thing or two about these big events.
At the center of the hockey world this coming weekend is the city of Columbus, a town that’s waited a long time to strut its stuff on the big stage. After losing the 2013 All-Star celebration to a work stoppage, the NHL acted quickly to award the next installment, 2015, to Columbus and the Blue Jackets.
In the nearly two years since, there has been a massive collective effort behind the scenes to make sure this NHL All-Star Weekend is the best one to date.
Much has changed since January 2013, which might be an understatement. Davidson was hired by the Blue Jackets weeks before the 2013 All-Star Game was canceled, and there were plenty of “curveballs,” as Davidson likes to say, that the organization was dealing with. The team was coming off a 30th-place finish, then lost the NHL Draft lottery and was facing an imminent work stoppage – but the manner in which the team, organization and fans have pulled together and worked on a world-class showcase is what has Davidson most excited.
“You think of where we were and where we are now…we’re still a work in progress as a team, but we’ve got three players who are going to be part of the All-Star Game and we have a city that’s really excited,” Davidson told BlueJackets.com. “This is really, really special. The hockey world is coming to us, they’re coming to Columbus and that’s pretty neat. I know that our group is really prepared.
“The wonderful thing about the city of Columbus is that we want people to come here and we want people to have a great time. And that goes hand-in-hand with what the All-Star Game is all about; it’s a celebration of the game and a celebration of our stars and also for our city.”
The Blue Jackets are represented by Nick Foligno, who’s having a career season and just signed a six-year contract extension to make Columbus his long-term home. Then there’s Ryan Johansen, a budding star center coming off a 33-goal breakout campaign who has seen his name come up more frequently in discussions about the game’s brightest young stars.
And last but not least, 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is an All-Star for the first time – and he also signed a new contract recently, a four-year deal to solidify himself as part of the Blue Jackets’ core for years to come.
Davidson’s message to the three Columbus All-Stars was pretty simple: enjoy every minute of this unique opportunity.
“Soak it up, soak it all up,” Davidson said. “Take in every part of the weekend and enjoy everything that’s there for you. Make sure you bring your families in and have them enjoy themselves. That’s the whole thing – enjoy it, be involved, and when it’s all over, you’ll know what it was all about and be able to reflect on a great experience in your careers.”
It’s an opportunity for the city, as well, and that’s one of the benefits of hosting the All-Star celebration. Columbus is seen by many as a hidden gem, a top-20 U.S. city in terms of population but one that (at least not yet) receives its fair share of attention. The culinary scene is first-class, the downtown is in the midst of a major renaissance in terms of both residential and commercial and the Arena District is the ideal centerpiece of it all.
“It’s our time to show off to the world and we’re ready to do it,” Davidson said. “Our group is really proud to put it on and we hope everyone really enjoys themselves. That’s the whole idea here. There’s a lot of work that goes into putting on an All-Star Game; the league helps out, for sure, and our people here with the Blue Jackets have been outstanding. They’ve worked their tails off.
“We’re Columbus, we’re going to show you a good time, and when people look back on this weekend, I hope they say ‘I’ll tell you what, Columbus is a great city with great people, great facilities and I had a wonderful time.’”