Saturday, February 28, 2009

2/28/09: "Massive" Living On In The Offseason With Blue Jackets

A nice article entitled "Blue Jackets Are Keeping The Spirit of Massive Alive" by Mike Arace talks about the correlation he sees between the "Massive Crew" and the NHL hockey team in Columbus, the Blue Jackets. I have to admit that I haven't ever been much into hockey before moving to Columbus, but now I watch them quite a bit on FSN Ohio and have caught glimpses of the "Massive" like the Filatov hat trick. Anyways, no matter if you think a strong link is there or not, it's never a bad thing to be getting shoutouts in the offseason; especially in a well written article by Arace:

Last autumn, the Crew and its supporters coalesced on a mission. They reveled in vindication against old nemeses, won the Supporter's Shield, drank from the MLS Cup. They startled the league and those who follow it, presenting Columbus with its most significant professional team title to date. En route, they conjured the concept of "Massive."

The Blue Jackets have a whiff of it now.

To say that Massive is an us-against-the-world thing is to identify the core concept -- and to oversimplify. Massive is uniquely Columbus. It embodies years of frustration. It takes into account the perception that the city is some isolated backwater lacking in the sophistication of those glorious metropolises, Cleveland and Cincinnati. It operates, rightly or wrongly, on the theory that nobody on the outside -- owners, league officials, referees, media -- is prepared to cut the local side a break. It assumes added impediment and girds to go beyond.

To be Massive is to overcome. And to overcome, one must be Massive.

There are parallels between the Crew and the Jackets, most notably the shared years of misery among their hardcore faithful. The fans -- and everyone else in the city -- recall the promise at the start of these enterprises. They lived through the numbing periods of mismanagement and mediocrity, when the merely curious were beaten out of the stadiums and attendance sagged. They worried about the long-term viability of their franchises. They yearned for a taste of something sweet. In Crew Stadium, the whole jumble of this experience was represented on a homemade sign on a bedsheet that hung below the Nordecke. In black letters, it said: "Be Massive my friend."

The Crew had a coach who understood and embraced the concept, and who threw his bulk into the stands, literally and figuratively, to share in it. Before Sigi Schmid left for Seattle, I thought he was genetically linked, somehow, to Ken Hitchcock. They share a physical profile and a facile mind. They have Hall of Fame-caliber records, and their philosophies regarding stout constitution and stellar defense are remarkably similar.

Like Schmid, Hitchcock has acknowledged a burgeoning symbiosis between his team and its supporters. Hitchcock talks about how the fans are "plugged in" or "dug in" and "right there with us." Hitchcock even goes a step further than Schmid by connecting with the city on an emotional level. Hitchcock likes it here. He wants to tap into its professional promise. And he wants hockey to grow here, so he can see the day when a Columbus kid plays for the Jackets.

Schmid's plan came together on the pitch last season. Thursday night, three-quarters of the way into the hockey season, you could see how Hitchcock's on-ice vision is focusing. The Jackets beat the Edmonton Oilers and gained ground in the playoff race. On one hand, the Jackets only won by a 1-0 score, and it appeared to be another exhibit for their lack of scoring power and their need of a top-flight center. On the other hand, it was a show of what a Hitchcock team, carefully modified by a sharp, young general manager, can look like. That was playoff-type hockey issuing from the Jackets, and they were thumpingly dominant.

Are the Jackets ready to win the Stanley Cup? No, the roster has yet to reach that level of fortification. But this team will get to the playoffs. It can clear that looming hurdle, nine years high. That has been my prediction, and I'm sticking to it.

Six months ago, very few within and without Columbus banked on a breakthrough season for the Jackets. But Steve Mason has no idea about that, and nor do the veterans who have experienced the playoffs wearing other sweaters. Hitchcock, for one, is talking about fifth place. The scarred and enduring season ticket-holders are dug in. And throughout the city, during this time of economic recession and angst, fans young and old, new and grizzled, lost and found -- the once-downtrodden throngs unaccustomed to hope -- they can hear the voice in their ear, a little more than a whisper at this point, but growing clearer. It is saying, "Massive."

Good luck to the Jackets.


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