by Lisa McRitchie on 07/09/12 at 11:00 AM ET
It may not sound like a top tourist destination, but Columbus Ohio was calling my name this spring. The Edmonton Oilers were playing an afternoon game Sunday March 26th in the Nationwide Arena, and although a battle for the basement may not sound entirely enticing, perhaps that old saying that misery loves company held true. None the less, like all of the arenas I have seen so far in my travels, Nationwide holds its charms and so do the people.
This trip wouldn’t have been as educational or enjoyable had it not been for the hospitality of Matt Wagner of the Cannon. I reached out to various writers of the two cities I visited before my trip and it was the Columbus crew from The Cannon who spent the time to answer questions and make suggestions. As soon as I mentioned being a celiac and my dietary concerns Matt went out of his way to make sure that I would be taken care of. For that, I will continue to owe him but I think that it says something about how small our world has become and how easy it now is to make new friends no matter where they live.
The city of Columbus itself reminded me of Edmonton. You have your government sections of downtown, and areas that are clearly undergoing facelifts. You also find areas that desperately need a little TLC, but overall the area seems safe and charming.
Although I tried to see as much as possible, it was of course the arena district that I had come to see. And what a sight it is. The building itself is beautiful brick, beautiful for a westerner who whose idea of diversity in building architecture is glass or coloured concrete.
The arena is built on the grounds that once held the old Ohio Penitentiary, and it is whispered that it is the ghosts of the old prison that haunt the arena, and that’s why the team hasn’t seen any real success. Yet. If there is any haunting I think that it is in the south east corner, the corner that saw Taylor Hall’s horrific skate to head injury as well as the collision that gave Theo Peckham his second concussion of the season. But there is one keepsake from the old penitentiary, or rather the old Union Station, that has now become a source of pride. When the old prison building was torn down, they took care to keep the old entrance. And now these Grecian looking columns remain. The Columbus Blue Jackets use the arches in photos as do the people of Columbus, posing for family, engagement and even wedding photos here.
The arena is immediately surrounded by a small grouping of bars and restaurants, but only a stone’s throw away is the larger arena district which is blossoming with small businesses and local chains. The area didn’t revitalize all at once, but it is clear that the new arena has breathed life into the city’s core. People are moving back downtown due to the condominiums and older homes and streets being refinished. Overall I would call the project a booming success.
Inside the arena, people traffic flows easily despite the interactive zones for fans and children alike.
And then what truly makes Columbus unique has to be their cannon and attendants dressed in civil war attire.
There are some sections that have their oddities though, such as in the middle bowl where the entrance is so narrow that you couldn’t fit two people through at one time.
But any section with a classic organ has to be a winner.
The oddest thing in the whole arena has to be the bug. How the bug is supposed to fit in with the Blue Jackets, I will never remember. But I will remember that it was because when the Blue Jackets became a part of the NHL all of the teams had to have an animal incorporated in as part of their theme.
The fans in Columbus were fun to talk to, many were Oilers fans had travelled from Pennsylvania and even Toronto for the game and so even though the two teams were, well, bad this season the fans were into the game. For the Blue Jacket fans in the crowd, they had the same temperament that I experience in Edmonton; they didn’t have any hope for a win and were basically just trying to get through the end of the season. Because I’m an Oilers fan I was able to sympathize, but I had to admit that the Blue Jackets had it worse this season. After all, the team had nothing in net. To blow through all of their goaltenders, and have to sign and play college kids, that’s something else. Then add in the fact that the face of their franchise, Rick Nash is being moved. Blue Jackets fans have been put through the ringer, but at least have Ryan Murray to look forward to.
Columbus may still have some kinks to work out over the summer, but their arena is great and so are the hockey fans. And while Columbus may not be a top ten tourist destination, it would be lovely to visit for a convention or as part of a sport or hockey trip. If nothing else, their March weather is a little nicer than in Edmonton.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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