COLUMBUS -- Rick Nash has many fond memories of the Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus, and there’s a genuine feeling behind his words.
He was drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2001 (after former GM Doug MacLean traded up in the order to get him) and he grew up in a burgeoning city that wrapped its arms around the Blue Jackets and packed Nationwide Arena on a nightly basis. Nash was their second son, their star in the making, and when his career here was finished in 2012, he remained one of the most accomplished and respected players to ever don the union blue sweater.
And though he’s wearing a lighter shade of blue this time around, the emotions of returning to Columbus and playing for “the other team” for the first time are no less prevalent. Nash still owns a home in Columbus and calls it home for part of the off-season, and his wife Jessica was born and raised in the area.
Nash said “pretty much the whole family” will be in attendance on Friday night at Nationwide Arena, in what will be anything but just another game for him.
“It’s tough to describe,” Nash said. “It’s the first time being here since (the trade) and it’s a lot of excitement for me to come back here and play in front of the fans I played in front of for 10 years. I have a lot of good memories here, a lot of friends made, and seeing all the security guards, people around the rooms (today)…it’s been fun.”
“I had some time yesterday, and it was a nice day to enjoy and take in all the good times.”
Adding to the already-bustling anticipation of Nash’s return to Columbus is that both his Rangers and the Blue Jackets are in a dead heat for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Two points and two games in hand separate the two teams, and Friday night’s game carries the oft-used “four point” label.
It’s not common for an opposing player to take solace in the fact that his former team is enjoying success, but for Nash, it’s different.
“The fans, we went through a lot (with only) four playoff games in those 10 years,” Nash said. “That was a tough go. To see them doing well here now, I’m really happy for the fans and for ownership. They have great ownership and a family that really loves this town and the team.”
Asked what kind of reception he expected from the crowd tomorrow night, Nash said he’s optimistic for a warm reception but understands there may be some who choose not to welcome him back so kindly.
He also has four current Ranger teammates - Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore and Anton Stralman - who played alongside him in Columbus and all have spoken about what Nash meant to the franchise during his 10 years in Columbus.
Regardless of the fans’ reaction, Nash said his excitement won’t be dampened nor will his affection for the city that raised him as one of its own.
“I’ll have a lot of family and friends here so they’ll be cheering,” Nash said with a smile. “As for the fans, I’m not sure what to expect. Me and the Blue Jackets fans have been through so much together, and if I get cheers, great. If I get booed - which I’m sure there will be some - I’ll move on.
“I’m going to try and enjoy it. I spent a big part of my career here, and it’ll be cool to see all the memories.”