When I called the man behind the Jason mask to ask him what it takes to be a Blue Jackets fan, he was busy.
"Do you mind if I give you a buzz back in, like, five minutes?" Matt Garrett said. "I'm at the ticket window at Nationwide."
Garrett has been buying Jackets tickets since the inaugural season in 2000-01, his senior year of high school. Back then, he worked two jobs and used his spare cash to scalp his way into about 30 games.
A stint with the Marines, including two tours of Iraq, kept him away for most of the next five years. But since he got his discharge papers, Garrett has once again become a big-time Blue Jackets booster, attending all the home games and as many road contests as he can.
His fandom ratcheted up a notch two months ago when, for a Friday the 13th meeting with the Detroit Red Wings, he decided to wear a white goalie mask like the one made famous by Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th. He sat in the front row, directly behind the Red Wings' bench, and heckled the visitors all night.
The following day, Garrett and a friend drove to Raleigh to watch the Jackets face the Carolina Hurricanes. His pal encouraged him to wear the mask again to help electrify his fellow Columbus fans.
"At that point, some of the fans and some of my friends suggested that this become part of my everyday attire for Jackets games," Garrett said. "Whatever is going to support the team the best and whatever's going to get the crowd more into it, I'll do it. It was like a snowball rolling down the hill, and I just kept rolling with it."
The Jason thing really took off March 6, when Garrett traveled to Detroit to watch the Blue Jackets beat the Red Wings 8-2. TV cameras caught security at Joe Louis Arena harassing Garrett for throwing his mask on the ice in celebration of Rick Nash's hat trick.
"I guess what I like the most about it is people were rallying behind it," Garrett said. "I was planning on wearing the mask anyway, but after that game there was no looking back."
"Jason's" tips for bandwagon jumpers
With the Blue Jackets poised for their first playoff trip, Matt Garrett is pumped to see bigger, rowdier crowds at Jackets games. He offered some pointers to help first-time fans fit in.
1. Find your team. "It should be the Jackets," Garrett said. "If it's not the Jackets, then Jason's gonna find you."
2. Know the rules of the game. Garrett often finds himself explaining rules like icing and offsides to casual fans. If you study up, you'll be a step ahead of most newbies.
3. Learn the traditions. The NHL has decades of history behind it, and even a relatively new team like Columbus has traditions. From the colors to the cannon to the "Carry the Flag" slogan, lots of Jackets lore is tied up in Ohio's Civil War history. Knowing this stuff will win you points with hardcore fans like Garrett.
4. Pick a favorite player. "It doesn't matter who. He can be famous or he can be behind the scenes." The personal connection with your guy will help you rally behind the entire team, Garrett said. He counts himself a Mike Commodore super-fan.
5. Attend a game. Hockey fans universally agree that the sport is best experienced in person. "Watching the game on TV isn't going to make you a die-hard fan," Garrett said.
6. Hang out with the experts. A group called Jacket Backers (online at thejacketbackers.org) organizes trips to away games. If a road trip is too intimidating, many hardcore fans congregate at the R Bar for away games.
7. Be loyal. Once this season is over, don't drop the team until the next time they make the playoffs. Stick with 'em through thick and thin. "It's not always going to be easy," Garrett said. "The hard times are going to make the good times that much more enjoyable."