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Tales From the Road: Columbus

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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But any section with a classic organ has to be a winner.

 

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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.

 

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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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Filed in: Edmonton Oilers, | Oil Patch | Permalink
 

Comments

HockeyFanOhio's avatar

Columbus is a pretty neat town.  Lots of good restaurants and areas like German village or the Short North.  Too bad the hockey team sucks so bad.

Posted by HockeyFanOhio from Central Ohio on 07/09/12 at 10:13 AM ET

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Any future thoughts on an arena by arena tour throughout the league in future? Articles with the breadth and scope of this one? I’m certain they’d be well received - certainly more people than me would be interested in the diversity of culture and architecture you’ve advanced with the one above.

Almost forgot: Good piece.

Posted by Basil from Belgravia on 07/09/12 at 10:42 AM ET

Steve J's avatar

Former Columbus resident of 16 years here. One correction about the arch outside the arena - it’s actually from the old Union Station, not the Penitentiary:

http://www.touring-ohio.com/central/columbus/union-station.html

Posted by Steve J from Columbia, MO on 07/09/12 at 11:24 AM ET

drimo's avatar

Nice article.

I live an hour away from Columbus so it is easy for me to get to games when the Wings are in town.  Sometimes I go to see other opponents, too.

In all honesty, Nationwide is one of my favorite arenas to attend because of the district around it.  We almost always arrive early and visit a surrounding bar before the game.  Plus traffic out of the area is always minimal for the route we take.  Things that are annoying: the cannon.

Posted by drimo from Cincinnati, OH on 07/09/12 at 11:26 AM ET

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Whoa.

Section 219 brings back a hundred and one different memories for me.  I spent just about 3 1/2 years working the retail kiosk there for the team’s retail operations before leaving (the team outsourced retail to a new ownership who proceeded to cut hours like gangbusters).

I also recognize the usher in that image, too.  Mike’s been doing usher duty at that same spot since ... man, I want to say since the team first came.  I could be wrong, but it’s definitely been a long while that he’s been there.

Posted by Michael Turner from Columbus, OH on 07/09/12 at 11:41 AM ET

bezukov's avatar

I usually go to Nationwide when the Wings come to town, but I make it for several games against other opponents as well.  The only agitating thing for me is that the CBJ like to link the OSU-Michigan rivalry to the Wings and Jackets.  This has resulted in having cigarettes flicked at me and being called a “f@ggot” on several occasions.  (The real irony here is that I’m an OSU alum).

Nonetheless, the staff are always friendly (as are most of the fans) and professional, and the arena is a real gem.  The arena district has been a fantastic boon to the downtown area.  Its safe, clean, and nearby places like the Short North offer many great options for visitors.  Despite the CBJ’s management problems on the ice, they really hit a home run when it comes to the environment they’ve created. 

Thanks for making a great writeup for a great town!

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 07/09/12 at 12:31 PM ET

Lisa Brown's avatar

Thanks guys, this was a great article for me to schedule to post while I am out of town because I wasn’t expecting any feedback, but thank you all.

Basil, I have written an article about each arena I’ve visited, but only a couple of those have come up here at Kukla’s Korner. I may have to write something later and link to all of my past arena visits. I’m glad you like this smile

Thanks Steve J I will make the correction.

Posted by Lisa Brown on 07/09/12 at 01:34 PM ET

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Great article. Now send Ryan Jones back to Ohio. I want to see him play for the Jackets.

Posted by Dennis from Nationwide on 07/09/12 at 01:45 PM ET

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Thanks for taking the time to say good things about Columbus and the Nationwide Arena experience.

Posted by Ed P. on 07/09/12 at 01:54 PM ET

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Lisa,

You may have written a few, ‘I was there this weekend,’ columns, but I cannot recall any that have the rich detail that this one on Columbus has. Quite clearly you’ve struck a very responsive chord; we readers want to read more, ( a lot more,) of your observations of various arenas, cities and fans.

Your voice is folksy, and with all the doom, gloom and negativity out there generally, it’s a welcome respite. Your observations fill a void - I’ve never been Columbus and I’m guessing the majority of your readers haven’t either. Yet most all of us would like to hear something about it, especially from someone we trust. (Or have no reason not to.)

Love to read about your travels around the entire NHL. Here’s hoping that whatever a Kukla is agrees with us and becomes a generous sponsor.

Keep it up kiddo!

Posted by Basil from Belgravia on 07/11/12 at 10:30 PM ET

SYF's avatar

The Jackets’ cannon blast is one of the most insanely original ideas in goal celebrations ever.  Outstanding.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 07/12/12 at 06:35 PM ET

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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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