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Umberger eager to bring playoffs back to Columbus

by Pete Jensen
The 2008-09 season was one Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger always will cherish.

Although Umberger had experienced two trips to the postseason as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, the feat took on a new meaning when the Ohio State graduate played a part in bringing the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the city of his alma mater for the first time in the franchise's history.

After getting a taste of the postseason in Columbus back in 2008-09, R.J. Umberger is eager to help lead the Blue Jackets back to the playoffs this season. (Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Columbus was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings, but Umberger said the stepping stone for the franchise brought an unprecedented vibe of positivity to Blue Jackets fans.

"The year that we made the playoffs here in Columbus, it was so much fun as a player," Umberger told "The city really embraced it and it really showed the kind of atmosphere that can be here for hockey come playoff time. The people here have been dying for it ever since. Me personally, I played college hockey here, so I want to see that kind of atmosphere again and I want Columbus to be known as a hockey town."

With Columbus coming off arguably the most significant summer in franchise history, Umberger is hoping to help bring that playoff feeling back to Ohio.

The offseason began with a huge splash, as the Blue Jackets acquired All-Star center Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers on June 23. Less than a week later the team acquired the rights to defenseman James Wisniewski and signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract July 1.

The trend continued later in the offseason as the Blue Jackets signed their top returning defenseman, Fedor Tyutin, to a six-year contract extension Aug. 31.

Umberger himself became part of that trend Sept. 21, when it was announced he signed a five-year contract extension that reportedly is worth $23 million.

Umberger said the organization's bold efforts this summer will be instrumental in creating and maintaining a winning culture in Columbus.

"I think it's great for the players who were on this team already to see the commitment," Umberger said. "We know the history of this organization and we want to change that and become a playoff team. It doesn't happen unless you start getting the commitment from the top people and management. They surely showed this summer that they're willing to do that and excite the city. For players like myself, it makes us very anxious to start the season.

Umberger has been a huge factor on both ends of the ice during his three seasons with the Blue Jackets. He's played all 82 games each season, and scored at least 23 goals in that time. He's also increased his point total each season, topping out at a career-high 57 points last season.

"We are pleased that we were able to come to an agreement with R.J.," Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson said in announcing Umberger's new contract. "R.J.'s commitment to the team and the city has been impactful since we acquired him three years ago. We are very excited about him continuing to play such a large role on our team."

Coach Scott Arniel, who enters his second season in Columbus, believes Umberger's consistent two-way production and versatility will pay huge dividends for his team as roles are determined on the fly and new pieces attempt to coexist.

"R.J. is a complete player," Arniel told "As a coach, you love and need players like him on your hockey club. He's a very unselfish player, as well. Whether you want him to be a top-six offensive forward or have more of a checking role, he can do it. He still finds ways to get his numbers and score goals."
"The year that we made the playoffs here in Columbus, it was so much fun as a player. The city really embraced it and it really showed the kind of atmosphere that can be here for hockey come playoff-time. The people here have been dying for it ever since." -- R.J. Umberger
While Umberger is aware of the ups and downs of the regular season and how competitive the Western Conference can be, he said the excitement surrounding the team's 2009 playoff run always is in the back of his mind and provide a daily source of motivation to him and team captain Rick Nash.

"I'm in the prime of my career, and as each year passes by, it's one less time you have a chance of winning the Stanley Cup," Umberger said. "It's important to me right now to be out there with a winning team. We want to bring the playoffs back to Columbus. I want to continue developing as a leader along with Rick Nash, but at the same time, my personal goals are never satisfied."

When Arniel looks at Umberger's hard-nosed mentality and 26 games of playoff experience, he sees an invaluable asset that will provide a much-needed element to a team that continues to build its identity.

He also noted that those types of role players -- with scoring ability and toughness -- are few and far between.

"He'll go in front of the net on the power play, take a beating and do a lot of the dirty work so we can succeed," Arniel told "He's played 82 games each of the last three years, he plays through pain and does everything to find success. The community has really embraced him, and the 'Average Joe' loves his blue-collar work ethic."
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