Bruce Hooley
Bruce Hooley

Bruce Hooley was sports editor of the Troy Daily News from 1983-86 and has covered Ohio State athletics for more than 25 years. Bruce was the OSU beat reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland from 1987-2005.  From 2005-2011 he hosted the afternoon show on  ESPN radio 1460 AM,  in Columbus, before taking on a similar ESPN talk position with WKNR, 850 AM, in Cleveland.  Most recently Hooley has served as the beat reporter for Ohio State football and basketball for Sports Illustrated.com.  The author of "That's Why I'm Here:  The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story, he returns for his second chapter as Buckeye beat reporter and columnist at large with Press Pros.

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 It’s a great show, and a great story, and one the Ohio sports-loving public should embrace.  The Columbus Blue Jackets…are for real!

Columbus –  Ohio has majored in downtrodden, inept professional sports franchises over the last 15 years or so, and none have been more irrelevant or ignorable than the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets.

While the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians share the state’s Major League Baseball audience, as do the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns the NFL portion of the market share, the Blue Jackets have had the NHL crowd all to themselves.

Not that many noticed.

Until now.

If you haven’t heard, the Blue Jackets are locked in a 2-2 series with the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins entering a Saturday night game in Steeltown.

It is only the biggest game in Blue Jackets history, and it follows the biggest victory in Blue Jackets’ history, which comes on the heels of the first playoff victory in Blue Jackets history.

That’s a lot of history to pack into a week, and it’s well worth sitting up and paying attention to, even if you don’t know the blue line from the red line.

If you love the essence of sports – competition, desperation, effort, emotion and youthful enthusiasm – make 7 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports Ohio or the NBC Sports Network appointment viewing.

Trust me, you won’t have to understand hockey to get infected with CBJ fever.

Wednesday night, the Blue Jackets fell into a 3-0 hole at home in the first 12 minutes and steadily crept back into contention with a goal in the time that remained in Period One and then another in the second.

Then in the third, with only 24 seconds left and its goal-tender on the bench to gain an extra attacker, the Jackets scored the tying goal to force overtime.

Nationwide erupted, and then exploded 2:49 into sudden death when Nick Foligno rocketed the game-winner past a flustered Marc-Andre Fleury.

Now the Jackets taste their first advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in franchise history.

Before this series started, they had been in the playoffs only one previous time in 13 seasons of existence, and promptly were swept out of the post-season 4-0 in that go-‘round by the Detroit Red Wings.
Always before, whenever Detroit, or Pittsburgh, or Buffalo, or even Montreal or Toronto visited Nationwide Arena, confusion sometimes reigned as to who was the home team and who was the visitor.

Such was the away crowd’s preponderance among the partisans.

But no more.

Columbus is, belatedly, sure, becoming a hockey town.

And with good reason.

It’s a great show, and a great story, and one the Ohio sports-loving public should embrace if only to get on the bandwagon early for the great times that seem destined ahead, given the youth on the Blue Jackets’ roster and the management structure club ownership has finally gotten right.

While the Reds and Indians struggle out of the gate, while the Browns and Bengals immerse themselves in the hope that the NFL draft will deliver a savior to – in Cleveland’s case, get them to the playoffs; and in the Bengals’ case, get them past the post-season opener – and while the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers limp into the draft lottery for the fourth consecutive post-LeBron-James-less season, devote some love and attention to the Ohio team that may give you the best chance of puffing out your chest in a championship T-shirt some day soon.

And if you really want to get hooked on hockey, find a ticket to Game 6 Monday in Columbus.

I guarantee you’ll become a fan for life.

Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of The Troy Daily News.

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