Ron Tugnutt was the kind of player you could build a franchise around.
In the spring of 2000, he was the talk of the National Hockey League after a 70-save performance in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers while tending goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was the kind of goalie who could keep any team in a game, often standing on his head between the pipes and making save after save to give his team a chance to win.
And who could forget the "Vote Tugnutt" posters? Quite fitting for Election Day.
“Tugger,” as his teammates called him, was truly the backbone of the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets when the team took the ice in the fall of 2000. And he earned the distinction of being the first player that you, the fans, voted to be our first “Where Are They Now” featured player on BlueJackets.com.
Tugnutt remembers the buzz the Blue Jackets created in the city of Columbus. He had seen many great hockey towns from growing up in Ontario and playing in cities like Quebec City, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa and Pittsburgh.
But taking the ice in Columbus was different, creating “goosebumps I had never experienced before,” Tugnutt told BlueJackets.com.
Tugnutt remembers the franchise’s first year as a season filled with excitement. The Blue Jackets routinely attracted a full house of 18,136 at Nationwide Arena – delivered an electric atmosphere of a city starved for professional sports action.
Assuming the role of “stabilizer” for the younger guys on the team was one he quickly came to embrace, Tugnutt said. The Tugnutts loved living in this part of the country; he said his family might still be in Columbus had he not been traded to Dallas for his final stop in the NHL.
He lived in Powell with Lisa, his wife of 18 years, and their two boys Jacob and Matt.
Tugnutt recalled the commitment and excitement of Blue Jackets fans – and the expectations that the team would “be a playoff contender right away.”
“Columbus is a real hockey town,” Tugnutt said. “They knew great hockey from the beginning.”
He acknowledged the importance of winning and having a winning attitude in order to keep the fan base. It is important to have a “good product on the ice,” he said.
Tugnutt has known John Davidson, the Blue Jackets’ new President of Hockey Operations, for a few years and he emphasized how big the addition of Davidson is to the organization.
“He is respected across the league,” Tugnutt said. “He instantly adds legitimacy to the Blue Jackets organization. He will have success.”
Facebook Fan Questions:
Shane Guilfoyle: Who was your most feared opponent or player?
Ron Tugnutt: “I tend to not worry about individuals, but I always knew I had to be ready for the Philadelphia Flyers. I knew that I may start the game, but may not finish. Also, the Edmonton Oilers with the likes of (Wayne) Gretzky and (Mark) Messier, were always a team to take seriously.”
Bryan Kuhn: (What did you think) of being the backbone of an expansion franchise?
Ron Tugnutt: “I knew that my role, and reason for being on the team, was to stabilize the younger guys. The excitement was there, and there were times during the season that we felt like we could maybe even make the playoffs. It was an overachieving year, but very memorable.”
Where is Tugnutt now?
He is currently part-owner of the Kemptville 73’s, a Canadian Junior “A” team that plays in the Central Canada Hockey League. Both of Tugnutt’s sons play for Kemptville, which is located south of the Canadian capital in Ottawa, Ont.
He is also a goaltending consultant for Team Canada’s under-20 team, which competes in the annual IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
In these roles, Tugnutt says he has been given an opportunity to give back to the game that has given so much to him and his family.
Blue Jackets fans will never forget their first netminder; his calm demeanor and veteran presence kept the team in many games, and gave his teammates confidence in the guy between the pipes.