-- His blue No. 3 jersey on his back and his father, Brad, at his side, Ryan Salmons spent Tuesday evening doing what he normally does on Columbus Blue Jackets
home game nights: inspiring them with his mere presence and then supporting them win or lose.
Why should a history-making occasion and an unhappy result change the dynamics of a relationship that has been as rewarding to the Blue Jackets as to the special 19-year-old who nightly redefines the NHL playoffs tradition of playing with pain?
Salmons, the by-now-famous Blue Jackets fan who was diagnosed with terminal cancer a year ago and signed to a one-day contract by the club on March 25, attended the franchise's first-ever home playoff game Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena. Undaunted by the 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings
that left Columbus in a 3-games-to-none hole, Salmons reported to the Jackets' dressing room after the game to offer words of encouragement -- as he has throughout the season.
"He's always upbeat even though it's a tough time he's going through," Columbus forward Jason Chimera
said. "You kind of just want to ask how he's doing. He was happy to be here and we worked hard enough, but couldn't get the puck in for him. He's a great kid and loves coming to the games."
Columbus defenseman Marc Methot
, who has also become close with Salmons, was also glad to see his friend after his team had just suffered a 4-1 loss.
"He's an inspiration to all of us," Methot said. "The battle he has here and still being able to come out to the games and remain so positive is inspiring.
"When we see Ryan, hockey takes a back seat, win or lose," Methot said. "You realize it's just a sport and when it comes to battling cancer like he has been it really puts things in perspective for all of us. He keeps things in good spirits and is really a good example of how we have to react after all these games we're losing and just remember, at the end of the day, it's only a game. There are much more important issues out there."
Ryan's teammate from his high school hockey team at Hilliard Davidson, Tony Elliot, will be skating out the ceremonial Blue Jackets flag prior to Thursday's opening faceoff as Salmons will be unable to do so. As is customary here before every Columbus home game, a special guest is asked to skate the flag around the perimeter of the arena before placing it in a holder on the center ice face-off dot.
Salmons will be situated in Section 103 in the ADA handicap seats, as he was for Game 3. There's no question the fans in Nationwide Arena will erupt when the announcement is made that Salmons' high school teammate will be doing the honors.
Incredibly, Salmons, despite experiencing constant back pain during Game 3, has yet to deny any media requests. He obviously wants to offer his story of inspiration and motivation to anyone willing to listen and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.