No matter how much Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock doesn't want it to be different, there will be at least one difference when R.J. Umberger
returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh on Friday night.
Instead of suiting up in a Philadelphia Flyers sweater like he has the previous three seasons, Umberger will sport a Blue Jackets sweater when Columbus takes on the Penguins at Mellon Arena on Friday night (7:30 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio HD). That is the only change Hitchcock hopes there is.
"I hope it's not different," Hitchcock said. "Umby always plays well against Pittsburgh."
In 23 career games against the Pens, Umberger has collected eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points, a trend he hopes to continue Friday night.
"Sometimes it's just funny how it works when you play good against certain teams," he said. "You definitely get pumped up to play them (Pittsburgh). It has been good for me and hopefully it continues in a Blue Jackets uniform."
In his pervious trips, Umberger came to Mellon Arena wearing the sweater of the Penguins biggest rival. Despite being in different colors, there will still be a few things that carry over from the Flyers-Penguins rivalry.
"It'll definitely be different, (Columbus) is a less heated rival (than Philadelphia), but it's going to be a heated game," Umberger said. "There are usually a couple of guys that I battle pretty hard with."
Friday night's contest could almost be viewed as a playoff-type game, as both Pittsburgh and Columbus are fighting for playoff spots in their respective conferences. A crucial two points could help Umberger get a little revenge against the Pens.
"This is going to be a tight game, as both teams are battling for playoff spots," he said. "There have been a lot of games we've (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) played against each other the last few years and they knocked me out of the playoffs last year, so obviously I have a little revenge for them and I can't wait to play."
The return trip to Pittsburgh will be a little more special this time around than it has in other years. This is the Blue Jackets only visit to the Steel City, compared to the four visits that Umberger and the Flyers made to take on their division rivals each of the previous three seasons. Despite this being the only regular season visit, Umberger will have plenty of names on the post-game guest list.
"It's going to be a chance to go out and play in front of everybody I know in Pittsburgh," Umberger said. "I have about 15-16 people in my immediate family and some friends and my family has some friends... usually it's about 40 people afterwards that I am saying hello to."
This will also be Umberger's first trip back to Pittsburgh since his beloved Steelers won the Super Bowl.
"It'll be pretty cool to be there," he said. "It would have been a lot of fun to have been there Tuesday when they had the parade, but we're a few days late for that."
Despite missing the Steelers' parade, Umberger is just happy to be back home.
"For me, it's just a lot of fun," he said. "Friends and family come and they look forward to it. It's just a chance to go back to a building where I grew up watching hockey and falling in love with it."