Blue Jackets fans are a loyal bunch. And this year, the team they love has put up a record-setting season and gotten back in the post-season for the first time in three years. For those who follow the Jackets, the road to the playoffs has been one that's been an emotional, and sometimes geographic, journey.
"We all had high hopes going into this year," Mark Gernert said. "Once we hit the 16-game win streak, and we saw the way they were playing with confidence and the team was on top of every ranking, we realized that we were going to make a run."
Gernert and his family have been Jackets season ticket holders since 2006. As part of their fandom, he and his wife Amanda and their two sons Wyatt and Logan try to visit a different NHL Arena each year in support of their favorite team.
The family circled the weekend the Jackets had two games in the greater New York City area against the Islanders and the Devils as a destination for this year's trip, and Gernert started looking for tickets. If he could get them, he knew the trip was a go.
Little did he know at the time that his family would be a witness to the Jackets' playoff clinching victory.
#MARCHON WALL OF FAME
"I realized once we were there that week that it could be the game when we hit 100 and we clinch," Gernert said. "The last 2.5 minutes, we were close to the bench and could hear the team. You could hear 'we got this' and 'we're getting 100.' To see their attitudes, their excitement, it was there. You could see it on Torts' face that we were hitting a milestone, and everyone was so excited about it."
Gernert was in attendance for game four of the Jackets' first playoff series in 2009 and in 2014 for the team's first home post-season win. He received his tickets to this year's opening playoff series this week.
"I can't wait for the atmosphere this time," Gernert said. "We know what it was like three years ago, it's going to be even better this year. I think we can make a deep run if we play the way we play."
The March Is On: A veteran's perspective
While some fans celebrated this season by going to other arenas, a few others marked this year's accomplishments by getting back to Columbus and Nationwide Arena.
Nikki Hunsberger had been a Jackets season ticket holder in 2011, but when she got into law school in Savannah, she couldn't make it to many games anymore. She continued to feed her fandom by subscribing to NHL Game Center and watching all the games on her computer, or her phone, or any device she had with her.
"The first sign that this team was for real was the strong start they had to the season," Hunsberger said. "It's been so exciting from the get go. I was a fan a couple years ago when we made the playoffs, and that was super exciting. But this year is on an entirely different electrifying level. This year has been phenomenal."
Hunsberger, like Gernert, knew this Jackets team was a post-season contender when they got deep into the 16-game winning streak. She started to think about playoff tickets. As she considered the alternatives for getting to a game, she came up with a unique solution.
The March Is On: A rookie's perspective
"My husband and I are moving to the Philadelphia area in the next month," Hunsberger said. "It clicked in my head that we will be within a 6-6.5 hour drive of Columbus next year. So that's when I started looking at the season ticket packages to see what they were. I realized I could guarantee tickets for at least one playoff game this year if I got a quarter season package for next year.
"Putting all that together and talking to my husband, we decided coming to 10 games over a season, even living in Philly, is a very doable thing. Especially with my family still being in Ohio. I can plan trips to visit them and see the Blue Jackets at the same time."
Both Gernert and Hunsberger agree that the road to the playoffs has been an incredible adventure, but it's just getting started.
"This entire team has been very fan-centered the entire time that I've watched," Hunsberger said. "I love that they share a connection with the fans and they are always looking to share, reach out, and be part of the community. What they have done has been just awesome to follow this year. I'm super excited that we're getting to see them reach the playoffs, not just for us fans, but for the team too."