COLUMBUS, Ohio – With less than one month remaining before the Blue Jackets open training camp at the OhioHealth Ice Haus, RJ Umberger is more than ready to engage “hockey mode.”
The preparation and lead-up time to the 2013-14 campaign is a far cry from a year ago, when the National Hockey League emerged from a nearly four-month long lockout to one week of practice time and a 48-game schedule in 99 days.
And for Umberger, the last few months have been additionally busy as he and wife, Cara, welcomed their third child (a son, Matthew) in mid-June.
Getting revved up for hockey season and rounding into “game shape” can be old hat for veterans like Umberger, but for any hockey player, there is no better feeling than the genuine excitement that comes with the dawn of a new season.
That’s the vibe right now in Columbus. Though the Blue Jackets fell short of a Stanley Cup playoff berth in their memorable run last spring, Umberger said there are positives to take into training camp despite the goal not being achieved.
"I feel a lot of energy going into this season. There are a lot of positive things around here right now." - RJ Umberger
“I think you wish you could start this season where we left off,” Umberger told BlueJackets.com. “There are a lot of positives though, because (the way we finished last season) provides us with a lot of confidence and we know the level we can get to with the way we played.
“We also know there’s another level and more we can shoot for, but I think there’s a ‘real’ factor to it: we did it, we saw it, and we went out there not hoping we could be better – we knew and believed we could be better.”
One significant difference between this club and teams of years past, Umberger said, is that they now expect to win and expect excellence. They set the bar high last season and it's up to them to take it a step further.
“We expect a lot of ourselves, absolutely,” Umberger said. “It will be tougher because teams are going to be gunning for us and no one’s going to be taking it easy. They’ll have us circled. We’re going to a new conference with a lot of different things that we won’t be accustomed to, which is both exciting and fresh. It’ll be a big challenge.”
Over the past few years, Umberger has played some of his best hockey against Eastern Conference teams – something he did routinely as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers (his 2008 playoffs against Montreal won’t soon be forgotten). He didn’t score as many goals in 2012-13 as he would have liked, but this is a player who has averaged 20 goals per season since joining the Blue Jackets five years ago.
Entering his sixth training camp with the Blue Jackets, the 31-year-old Umberger has been energized by an active offseason that included the addition of another elite goal scorer in Nathan Horton. As a full-time resident of Columbus, Umberger witnesses first-hand the coming and going of players who live near and far but he’s also able to take a step back through offseason workouts away from the rink.
But when the guys start to arrive back in town and the player skates start showing up on the schedule (as they have this week), Umberger can’t fight the hockey itch.
“I’ve made this my home, my wife and I both went to Ohio State and really it’s a no-brainer for us,” Umberger said. “It’s a great place to raise our kids and there are good opportunities here for them. For me, I still get that disconnect from the daily regular season grind during the summer. I’m able to work in some other areas aside from going to the rink every day, and when August comes around, I’m excited to get back.
“I feel a lot of energy going into this season. There are a lot of positive things around here right now, and that creates a lot of positive energy not just for myself but for everyone on the team. There’s a lot of excitement going into this season and I speak for everyone in saying we can’t wait to get back on the ice for training camp in a few weeks.”