It started with the late John H. McConnell's vision to bring an NHL team to the city of Columbus.
The arrival of the Blue Jackets meant growing community pride and introducing professional-caliber hockey to a city in which the game was only beginning to blossom.
On Oct. 7, 2000, 18,136 filed into a sold-out Nationwide Arena to watch Ohio’s newest professional team play against Chicago in the franchise’s first-ever game. The buzz around the organization and the sport of hockey was ever-present, and there was a big platform upon which hockey’s popularity could grow and flourish.
The tools to take hockey to another level in both Columbus and Ohio were in place, but there was much work to be done.
In 1991, the Ohio State Fairgrounds and Ohio State University were the only two operating ice rinks in central Ohio. Between 1994 and 1995, there were only 150 registered youth hockey players and three organized hockey leagues, at any level, in the Columbus area.
In the decades that have passed, hockey has burst onto the scene big way.
Thirteen fully-operational ice rinks service 3,000 adult players and 4,500 youth players across six youth leagues and 170 adult clubs. Adding in clubs attached to high schools, 20 programs, which field 32 teams, have popped up in every part of the area.
Ohio is home to 14,000 registered players and over 50 ice rinks, 80 youth hockey organizations and 80 high school varsity programs. Whether the Blue Jackets were the primary catalyst for the growth of the sport is up for debate, but hockey’s popularity in the Buckeye State continues to build.
Establishing youth programs is a key element of establishing a consistently strong pipeline of talent to junior and professional leagues.
During the 2013-14 season, five Ohio natives saw ice time at the NHL level, ranking 13th out of 26 states eligible for the list. Connor Murphy, J.T Miller, Peter Harrold, John Albert and Michael Rupp played in a combined 115 games, and Murphy took the biggest steps by filling in big minutes for the Arizona Coyotes.
Murphy, a native of Dublin, played with the Ohio Blue Jackets U-16 club where he registered 7-11-18 in 35 games during the 2008-09 season. The 6-foot-4 defenseman made his way to the U.S. National Team Development Program and the OHL’s Sarnia Sting before being selected by the Coyotes with the 20th pick of the 2011 draft.
Harrold and Rupp, both northeast Ohio natives who at one time played for the Cleveland Barons junior program, are the most tenured members of the group with 840 NHL games between them.
Rupp played in 39 games for the Blue Jackets during the 2005-06 season before signing with the New Jersey Devils the following season.
Miller and Albert, both products of the USNTDP, have bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL early in their careers with Miller playing in 30 NHL games with the New York Rangers.
Currently, there are nine players on Ohio State and Miami University (Ohio) NCAA hockey rosters who have been drafted by six different NHL franchises. An additional 18 players from the two schools were listed on NHL rosters last season.
It's safe to say that Ohio’s place in the hockey world is becoming more and more firm with each passing season.
The game has grown tremendously, but there is still a lot of room to grow.