Manny Malhotra delighted the crowd of 16,103 at Nationwide Arena on Friday night when he converted the game-winning goal in the 11th round of the Jackets’ 5-4 shootout victory over Calgary.
For the 20 kids seated in Section 202, Rows K & L, that goal meant so much more, as Malhotra was the reason each kid was at the game. Malhotra, the Jackets’ 26-year-old center, purchased a block of 20 tickets for 20 Blue Jackets games and donated the seats to inner-city youth from around Central Ohio.
Friday night was the first of those 20 games.
“It is just an opportunity to give back to the community,” Malhotra said. “Any time you can bring somebody into the game that normally wouldn’t have the experience of enjoying the live game, I want to take advantage of that and give them that opportunity.
“That is the biggest thing, giving kids the chance to do something that they normally wouldn’t be able to do.”
The 20 kids present at Friday night’s game were from The Buckeye Ranch.
"That was a real good game,” one of the attendees said. “[The game] went to a shootout. We liked being on the big screen.
“It was fun to watch them have fun playing the game."
Malhotra was one of those players having fun, being that he had never participated in a shootout before. So when Columbus and Calgary remained deadlocked at four after a five-minute overtime session, head coach Gerard Gallant filled out his lineup for the shootout.
The usual suspects began the competition. CBJ sniper Fredrik Modin tried and missed. Rick Nash’s shot resulted in a save as did Nikolai Zherdev’s.
The teams entered sudden death without a conversion on either side. Fifteen more players would try, with only Calgary’s Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius and Byron Ritchie successful and David Vyborny, Sergei Fedorov and Anson Carter matching the scores for Columbus.
That brought up Malhotra, the 22nd shooter of the competition, who had never attempted a shot in the shootout. Malhotra took the puck and calmly skated in on goaltender Jamie McLennan finding the five-hole open and scoring to seal the win.
“It was a really cool experience,” Malhotra said. “Having that kind of tie and that relationship with those kids is pretty special.”
In addition to Malhotra, Fredrik Modin donated seats to the Central Ohio Easter Seals, with “Freddy’s Friends,” 24 seats to 20 games helping to make the community a better place for people with disabilities to live, work and play. Nikolai Zherdev has sponsored, “Z’s Zone,” with 32 seats to 20 games donated to Franklin County Children’s Services.
Ohio Native Dan Fritsche welcomes fans of all ages from Children’s Hospital with “Fritsche’s FAN-atics” using 20 seats to five games while Anson Carter welcomes 40 VIP guests from Big Brothers and Big Sisters to 20 games in “Carter’s Corner.”
Jody Shelley is also active in the program, donating 100 seats to one game with “Jody’s Heroes,” and Rick Nash will also be participating.