Today weíre mourning the loss of Jody Shelley, the Blue Jacketsí beloved enforcer, who was traded to the San Jose Sharks last night.
Shelley was probably the Blue Jacketsí most popular player. On the ice, he was a gritty, hard-working grinder, sticking up for Columbusí honor with his fists during the lean years when we couldnít always defend ourselves on the scoreboard. Off the ice, he was a friendly ambassador for the game, using his gap-toothed smile to spread the good word of hockey in an eager expansion city.
One of my most vivid memories of a game at Nationwide came on November 9, 2003, when Calgary was in the barn. Shelley scored two goals that night (still a career high), and the fans really wanted him to get the hat trick. The anticipation was electric -- almost to the point of mass anxiety. If he had gotten the third goal, the celebration wouldíve shaken the arena to the foundation. It was the sort of visceral night that makes you appreciate being a hockey fan, and the adrenaline rush you get from watching games in person, even when your team (or your favorite player) really isnít that good.
Iíve met and interviewed a lot of famous people over the years, and Jody Shelley was hands-down the nicest, most genuine of all. I know it sounds cliche, but itís true -- heís just a great guy.
I interviewed Shelley for an October 2005 Alive cover story (we were gonna make the playoffs that year -- ha ha). Although I was a Blue Jackets fan, Iíve never been a sports reporter, so I was a little out of my element in the locker room. Shelley made me feel right at home -- he was happy to see me (which sorta caught me off guard), and happy to chat for as long as I wanted.
But beyond all the nice guy stuff, I think Shelley was popular because he represented our ambitions and shortcomings as an NHL expansion team. Shelley has never been a great offensive forward (he hasnít played much this year), but he showed us that you can make up for a lack of talent with lots of determination, hard work and tenacity. He busted his butt for us every night, and Columbus loved him for it.