Happy Monday morning, Columbus.
The Blue Jackets are on a roll, baby. Against all odds and conventional wisdom, the team is playing like a contender. Heck, they beat Boston in Boston last week.
But this column doesn’t start in Boston. It starts in Columbus a few days before we celebrated a new year …
My youngest daughter bought me a hat for Hanukkah.
It’s a warm and comfy Columbus Blue Jackets hat in red, white and blue. It’s topped with a pom pom.
Caroline purchased it for me as a replacement for the Blue Jackets hat that I gladly tossed to the ice on Nov. 29 when forward Gustav Nyquist scored a hat trick in the team’s 5-2 win over the Penguins at Nationwide Arena.
That was a glorious night spent celebrated with my other daughter, Mara, who is my partner at Blue Jackets games.
I have a few other Blue Jackets hats at home, but that was among my favorites. It was a third jersey hat that I quite liked. A nice topper, if you will.
Here it is:
Anyhoo, I wore the new hat on New Year’s Eve.
My wife, Jackie, and I started out the evening in the Brewery District, where we dug into a platter of “bread and fat” at Rockmill Tavern, drank some fine brews and shared a wonderful dinner. You might remember I wrote about said bread and fat in a past column. It is an amazing plate full of sin and flavor.
Go try it. Now. You’ll thank me. (By the way, if you are on a diet that restricts bread and fats, you might order the veggie platter.)
After a delightful meal, Jackie and I headed to the Arena District to watch the Blue Jackets play the Florida Panthers, who brought Sergei Bobrovsky back to Columbus for his first game at Nationwide Arena since leaving over the summer.
Jackie doesn’t attend that many games. But when she does, she expects the team to 1) score every time they bring the puck down the ice, 2) stop every shot on defense, 3) win, and 4) win by a lot.
That’s a lot of pressure on a team that has lost a good chunk of its starters to a ridiculous number of injuries, including one suffered by its starting goalie in the previous game.
In all, 10 players who should have been on the ice were nursing various body parts that were broken, ripped and bruised.
One that really deflated confidence was Joonas Korpisalo’s injury. He tore the meniscus in a knee Sunday afternoon, and that meant that Elvis Merzlikins would start in goal on Tuesday.
Elvis had yet to notch an NHL win. He was 0-4 heading into New Year’s Eve.
Jackie was not impressed with the odds. Oh, and she is not a fan of goalies who leave the crease to chase down pucks. She yells at them to get back. Loudly. Every time.
Thankfully, Elvis had one of those magical nights that rookie goalies dream about. The young man played the game of his life, stopping 36 of 37 shots.
While incredible, Jackie still yelled at Elvis to get back in the crease every time he skated behind the goal to play a puck.
What does this have to do with new hats? Well, Elvis wasn’t the only star of the game.
Defenseman Zach Werenski just happened to score three goals that night. A rare and lovely hat trick.
And when that third goal went in the net at 8:04 in the third period, I pulled my new hat from my head, cocked my arm and prepared to toss my lid to the ice.
That’s when Jackie caught my eye. “Really? Caroline just bought you that hat.” That’s true.
Besides, I’ve tossed four or five hats onto the ice over the years to celebrate these feats of hockey greatness. And it was chilly outside. Brr.
In the end, the Jackets won 4-1, Elvis and my wife got to celebrate a big win, and I kept my balding dome warm on the long walk to the car.