Opening Night. Those two words mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Excitement. Anticipation. Anxiousness. Beginning. Hope. Optimism. I am feeling all of these.
During any season – and it doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about – there are very few moments that match or surpass the EXCITEMENT of the first game of the season. This is as true for players, coaches and team management personnel as it is for fans. The sights and sounds of Opening Night are unique to any other game night. There is a pageantry about this night and a heightened sense of adrenaline that everyone feels.
From a hockey perspective, you hope the players are able to channel that adrenaline and their emotions in a positive way. At times, players will try to do too much because they want to make sure they put on a good show and win the game for their fans. It is important to play to your individual strengths within the team’s game plan. Teams that use the passion and positive energy from fans in that way give themselves the best chance to open with a win.
For the 28 NHL teams who did not compete in the Stanley Cup Finals, the previous season ended sooner than they’d have liked. And only one of the two who played on the season’s final night left the arena feeling good about a win. As soon as your season ends, you are looking forward to the next one. This summer was a long one for our hockey club and our fans. It was also the most active in regards to player turnover since I came here in 2007. Because of the changes we’ve made and the personnel we’ve added, we enter the 2011-12 season with a great feeling of ANTICIPATION about what our team can accomplish.
The work you do in the off-season – be it at the draft, during the free agency period or in completing trades – sets the table for your season. Some years you do more tinkering and tweaking and others, like this past summer, resemble more of an overhaul. With those moves, come questions. How will Rick Nash and Jeff Carter perform together? Will James Wisniewski provide the offensive spark from our blue line that we’ve needed? Are young players coming into their prime going to take the next step? Will our goaltending be strong enough?
A lot of you have asked these questions. We’ve asked them ourselves. Obviously, we think we know the answers to those questions. But until the puck is dropped for real, you don’t really know and that is cause of that twinge of an ANXIOUS feeling you get as season gets underway. We are very pleased with the make-up of our team coming out of training camp, but the hard work begins now and continues every day for the next six months and beyond.
The NHL regular season is a marathon. Today is the BEGINNING. At its conclusion on Saturday, April 7, our team will have played 82 games over 184 days from Vancouver to New York, Edmonton to Tampa Bay and every time zone in between. On 16 occasions, we’ll play on back-to-back nights. It is daunting when you look at it that way, but tonight is about the beginning.
Our focus each and every day will be on the task and game at hand. Our focus on Friday, October 7 is on the Nashville Predators. Tomorrow, it will be on the Minnesota Wild. It is the most clichéd of sports sayings, but we aim to take this season one day at a time. It begins tonight and we believe this will be the beginning of a special season for our team and our fans.
HOPE is defined as the feeling that what is wanted will happen. It is desire accompanied by expectation. On Opening Night, every team and every fan in the National Hockey League has just that. All 30 teams are tied for first place on Opening Night. All 30 teams hope this is their year.
When I think about our team on Opening Night 2011 another word comes to mind – OPTIMISM. I believe in our players, our coaches, our staff and our fans. I am optimistic this can be a special year for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Thanks for your support of Blue Jackets hockey. Just a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter at @GMScottHowson.