One would have expected Kole Sherwood to have a big cheering section when he played at Nationwide Arena last night against Calgary.
After all, Sherwood grew up in the Columbus suburb of New Albany and was playing just his second NHL game in his hometown for the Blue Jackets and only the third overall at hockey's highest level.
Yet while many friends -- including representatives of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program that helped mold him in his early years playing the sport -- were at the downtown arena, his father Roger and mother Yuko weren't in attendance.
Video: Sherwood talks about finishing physical plays.
They had a good excuse, though. They were in California watching their other son, Kiefer, who is in the Anaheim organization.
"I'm a lone soldier tonight," Kole joked with media before the game.
Yet more than 15,000 people had his back at Nationwide in the game against the Flames as he was a central character in perhaps the contest's most notable exchange. Early in the second period, Sherwood stripped rugged NHL veteran Milan Lucic of the puck to create a 3-on-1. Flames goalie David Rittich made the stop and moved to cover the puck, but Sherwood still saw it was loose and jabbed at the puck and netminder as he moved by the net.
Lucic didn't like it, delivering a gloved right hand to Sherwood's face to drop him to the ice. After the ensuing scrum, Lucic was given a four-minute penalty for roughing, while Sherwood got two for slashing and had to go to the locker room to be evaluated as part of concussion protocol.
As he left the penalty box and skated across the ice to head to the locker room for the evaluation, the Nationwide Arena crowd roared its approval for the 22-year-old winger who used to watch the Jackets from the upper reaches of the building.
"When you whack the goalie, you're going to get something back," Sherwood said after the game. "It's expected. I think (Lucic) was mad I stripped him of the puck. Stuff like that happens and you have to keep playing.
"I saw the puck. (Rittich) didn't have it covered, I didn't think. Until the whistle blows I'm going for it, but (Lucic) didn't like it obviously."
The play was emblematic of the hard-charging nature Sherwood brought to the game. He was one of the most noticeable Blue Jackets in his season debut despite playing just 7:07 over 11 shifts, finishing with a team-high four hits, three shots on goal and two takeaways.
"He played good," head coach John Tortorella said. "Had some shots on goal, was around the net, but showed some really good speed, finished some checks. He played good."
That's the type of energy infusion the Blue Jackets hoped for from Sherwood when they called him up Saturday to play on the fourth line, and it's very much his game as well. He has shown the ability to score over his career, from back-to-back 30-goal seasons to finish his OHL career to a 16-goal debut professional season last year with AHL Cleveland.
He's also noted for throwing his body around -- Sherwood delivered 10 hits in his two NHL games last year -- and all four of his hits came on his first three shifts against the Flames. It's a physical nature the Blue Jackets had been missing for parts of the season's early going, and it's fair to say Sherwood certainly brought it against Calgary in what was the team's testiest game of the season.
"I tried to (bring energy)," he said. "That's my role, a fourth-line energy role, just trying to bring energy and when there's opportunities try to capitalize."
Sherwood made his NHL debut last February, playing in two games for the Blue Jackets, and dedicated his offseason to returning to the team this year. Instead, he was sent down to Cleveland during training camp, but he responded with three goals in the first 10 games for the Monsters. He admitted it was difficult, though, being sent down rather than making the team out of training camp, leaning on his fellow coaches and players to keep his head up.
"It was really disappointing, obviously," he said. "I thought I struggled the first couple of weeks down in Cleveland. I thought I should be here, but obviously I didn't make it. There's nothing you can do about it at that point, just control what you can control, and I started doing that.
"At the end of the day, I took it upon myself and I really worked on my game and everything worked out."
Sherwood says his experience and confidence levels are higher than they were a year ago when he was summoned, and his obvious hope is to stay with the Blue Jackets indefinitely. It would seem the chance is there, as he was called up not to fill in because of injuries like he was a season ago but to get a look to see if he's ready for the highest level.
It's an opportunity Sherwood doesn't want to watch pass him by.
"I'm ready to prove myself on this stage," he said. "It's an opportunity I don't want pass up. Every chance I get, I'm going to put my best foot forward."