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Blue Jackets Awarded All-Star Game as Fans’ Frustration Grows

January 30th, 2012
Melissa Hoppert, The New York Times

From the hometown fans cheering wildly for the Senators’ representatives (and heartily booing the Maple Leafs’) to the awestruck players videotaping the performance of the Toronto-born rapper Drake, Canada’s capital city of Ottawa provided a nearly perfect backdrop for this past weekend’s All-Star festivities.

So it might have come as a surprise to some when N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Saturday that the struggling Blue Jackets would host next year’s All-Star Game on Jan. 27 in Ohio’s capital, Columbus. The announcement coincided with about 250 fans protesting Blue Jackets management outside Nationwide Arena in the wake of the team’s dismal play.

The Blue Jackets (13-30-6) entered the All-Star break with the N.H.L’s worst record and had only one representative in Ottawa, the rookie forward Ryan Johansen. Three weeks ago, Coach Scott Arniel was fired and replaced on an interim basis by the assistant Todd Richards.

“I think that we have a lot of passionate season-ticket holders who have been there since Day 1, but I think there’s a lot of people that are getting frustrated because we’re not showing a winning product,” Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger said. “If it ever happens, where we win consistently, the place would be sold out every night here, I have no doubt
about it.”

The Blue Jackets were founded as an expansion team in 2000 and qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009. They hosted the 2007 N.H.L. entry draft, drawing a capacity crowd on the first day.

“We held the draft there not too many years ago, and the city and the Blue Jackets organization was terrific in terms of hosting all the events and making us feel at home,” Bettman told the NHL Network on Saturday. “The facilities are there, the fan support is there, they have a terrific organization, the arena’s great, all the factors that you need to build the event are in place in Columbus for us.”

Umberger, who played from 2000 to 2003 at nearby Ohio State, whose hockey team recently reached No. 2 in the rankings, said that the city had embraced the sport with open arms.


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