COLUMBUS, Ohio – For Jody Shelley, this was less about “retiring” and more about making a transition in the game he loves so much.
A veteran of over 600 NHL games and the Blue Jackets’ all-time leader in penalty minutes (1,025), Shelley knew some time ago that his NHL playing days may be winding down. Rather than focusing on stepping away from the game, Shelley was instead energized by the possibilities that beckoned on the so-called “other side” of the business.
The opportunity he now has with the Blue Jackets is something he has been thinking about for quite a while; it’s a chance to return to a place he cared so much about in his six-year career in Columbus and re-engage as a member of the community - something he and his family are genuinely excited about. As a member of the San Jose Sharks (after being traded in 2008), Shelley was teammates with longtime NHL defenseman and current Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Rob Blake, who was at the tail end of his career and starting to think about life after hockey.
What Shelley learned and observed by watching Blake got the ball rolling. He saw a man with legitimate interests aside from lacing up the skates, and it has helped him get prepared for this next phase as the Blue Jacket’s broadcast associate and team ambassador.
SHELLEY JOINS FRONT OFFICE
“I’ve always been a guy to keep doors open,” Shelley told BlueJackets.com. “When you’re playing professional sports, you see a lot of people doing different things and different jobs. (Blake) was asking those questions and thinking about his future. That, for me, was really interesting and you look at things differently as you get older, too.
“Since the day I left, I’ve always been a fan of the Blue Jackets, and on the outside looking in, I thought ‘man, it would be great to get back there some day.’ You always think about different things, but for it to really happen…we’re just thrilled. My family and I are ecstatic.”
During his playing days in Columbus, Shelley was one of the most beloved figures in Blue Jackets franchise history and an ambassador for the sport both on and off the ice. That’s the nature of being a professional athlete, he said; players have a responsibility to be quality representatives of their organization, and in his new role with the Blue Jackets, will be filling a similar role - albeit without skates and a stick.
From his first day in Columbus, Shelley knew he wanted to be part of the Blue Jackets for a long time. His relationships with fans, teammates, coaches, staff and the ownership group led by the McConnell family made it a no-brainer to keep an eye toward Columbus and the future. He bought a house in Columbus in 2004 and spent offseasons there even after he was traded, and his wife Mandy is also from the area.
“When you work for an organization or a business, you represent that business the best you can,” Shelley said. “I learned early on what the Blue Jackets are about, with the ownership of Mr. McConnell and his family, the other owners and what great people they are…the community here is a great community that stands for great things and has great character and pride. I want to represent the Blue Jackets as best I can in whatever I’m doing; if it’s out in the community, I want to interact with the fans, get to know the people and be accessible to whatever needs to be done.
“It’s a change in my life, but it’s the time of the change that makes it so exciting. This is an exciting time for the Blue Jackets and the city, the fans…I’m well aware of that. I’ve kept tabs and followed everything through the disappointments, excitement, the transactions, and really got a sense of what the fans here are going through. For them to get excited again last year with the run the team went on, and this group of players getting to see what this city’s about, it was a great environment. These players now know what it’s like here and how great these fans can be.”
In a way, Shelley’s career has now come full-circle. For a guy born in Manitoba, raised in Nova Scotia and who played hockey in a handful of cities across North America, Shelley could not be happier to return to a place that has always felt like home.
“I definitely feel that way, yeah,” Shelley said. “This has been home for me for a while. I bought a house here and lived in it for seven years and in the offseason, too, after I got traded (in 2008). My wife and I have made a lot of good friends here, this is where my career started, and I’ve been so fortunate to play here at the time I did and represent our community. It was great for us.
“This is home for me, no doubt about it. I love it.”