Former Blue Jackets renew old ties, make their homes in Columbus after playing days
Jared Boll's summer was different than the kind to which he had become accustomed. For one, it was actually a summer and not simply the offseason.
The former Blue Jacket — Boll played nine years in Columbus before finishing his career in Anaheim — announced his retirement from the National Hockey League in July. Last month, he officially (re)joined the CBJ as an assistant player development coach, meaning he will work with younger players throughout the organization.
“It was a nice, relaxing summer. It just flew by. We did a lot more traveling than we have in the past,” Boll said in a recent phone interview. “It's weird going into September without the butterflies I always got … in the week or so before [training] camp.”
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That Boll would work for his former team was not a guarantee. But that he and his wife would return to Columbus was.
“We knew when I was done playing that we wanted to come back to Columbus,” said Boll, whose wife is from Columbus. “I had thought that some day, maybe I'd be part of the team. [General Manager] Jarmo [Kekalainen] and [Assistant GM Bill Zito] have been very good to me.”
Boll joins a growing community of ex-Jackets who make their home in the area. Some, like Boll, are working for the CBJ in some capacity, including Development Coach Chris Clark; Andrew Cassels, who runs the CBJ Learn to Play program and also coaches with the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets (he also recently joined the coaching staff of the Ohio State Women's Hockey Team); Fredrik Modin, who has been a consultant with the team's hockey operations for the past three seasons and has been active in the organization's community relations initiatives; and Jody Shelley, broadcast associate (serving as the team's television color analyst on FOX Sports Ohio) and team ambassador. Part of Shelley's work with the club is the development of a CBJ Alumni group.
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“All of us are here for different reasons, but we all have one thing in common,” Shelley said. “We came here as athletes and to be part of the team, and we put down roots. This is a special place.”
Like Boll, Shelley married an Ohio native, but said his love for the city started before his marriage.
“I actually played against the Columbus Chill a couple years before I came back here to play for the Blue Jackets. I remember thinking the fans were absolutely crazy. It really was a dream to come back later to play here,” Shelley said.
Shelley played seven seasons in Philadelphia, New York and San Jose after he left the CBJ, but he and his wife kept the home they had in Columbus. He said he would talk up Columbus among his teammates in those other cities, not only sharing his opinion of the city with other pros but keeping in the back of his mind that one day he would be facing the end of his playing career.
“A lot of guys aren't sure what they're going to do when their career ends. But they know they want to stay involved with the game in some way. Having [President of Hockey Operations] John Davidson in the front office, he gets how important having an alumni group can be. He's an alum of the [New York] Rangers and [St. Louis] Blues, where they have one of the most active alumni groups,” Shelley said.
“It comes at you faster than you want, and you're not really ready for it,” said former Jacket (and Ohio State Men's Hockey player) R.J. Umberger, who finished his playing career in Philadelphia. “There are so many moments when you miss playing, the atmosphere, the competition, being around the guys. Jody's really been pushing building that group. That's been great.”
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Umberger said there are plenty of non-hockey reasons that former players decide to make Columbus their home. His children were born here and attend school here, so his family has a large circle of non-CBJ friends. Additionally, he has the OSU connection, plus he's a short trip to his hometown of Pittsburgh to see family.
“Credit to the Blue Jackets for encouraging guys to be part of the organization, to feel part of the team,” Shelley said. “Guys like Freddy Modin, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre (a real estate consultant and guest radio analyst for the CBJ Radio Network) and even Martin Spanhel (who runs the Chiller Adult Hockey League), who only played a short time here, we want them all involved.”
Other former Jackets who live in and around Columbus include Derek Dorsett, James Wisniewski and Scott Hartnell. Rick Nash, a current free agent who is said to be considering retirement, and Mark Letestu, who recently rejoined the team and is assigned to the Jackets' AHL affiliate in Cleveland, have maintained homes here even as their careers have taken them elsewhere.
Shelley spoke of community and charity efforts, golf tournaments and fantasy camps, networking events and other activities he intends to hold as the CBJ Alumni group grows. In the meantime, the guys can be a presence in the community, and in each other's lives.
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“It's a young organization, so we're just now sort of getting to where there are more players whose careers have ended and are coming back to Columbus,” he said. “As we approach our 20th year [as a franchise], we want to really make an impact in the community. That's the next step, to define the CBJ Alumni a bit more.”