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The Sports Page: Jackets Update & MLS Draft

 Corey Barnes The Sports Page: Jackets Update & MLS Draft
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Columbus Blue Jackets Week in Review

In three games last week, the Columbus Blue Jackets put a tally in each column and wound up with three points. They started play last Tuesday with a tough 4-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Despite the ‘Yotes playing on the back end of two away games in two days and not touching down in the Buckeye State until 2:30AM, they still had more gas in the tank than the Jackets. Despite The Good Guys holding leads of 2-0 and 3-2 throughout the evening, the relentless Phoenix attack proved to be too much for the Jackets with the eventual game winner crossing the line at the 10:44 mark of the third period. The shot came from Derek Morris; his initial attempt actually ricocheted into the air and fell in the goal after bouncing off CBJ goalie Mathieu Garon’s back. That play indicates pretty well how the game went for Columbus.

The weekend home-and-home with the Detroit Red Wings was Columbus’ first contest facing Detroit since the Wings swept the Jackets in two straight games in November. Going into Friday’s game, Columbus was 7-14-3 since those two losses. However, Ohio’s Team got a taste of revenge at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday, besting Michigan’s Team 3-2 after a shootout. Each team’s first three shootout shooters came up empty, but Antoine Vermette bested Detroit’s Joey MacDonald in the fourth attempt. After allowing two second period goals, Columbus goalie Steve Mason did what masons do best – he built a wall in the crease, refusing to allow a puck in the net during the third period, the overtime period, and against all four shooters. He finished with 26 saves on the day. Unfortunately, he would not get a “W” the next night.

The following day both the Jackets and Wings traveled to Joe Louis Arena in That State Up North for an encore game. The Flag Carriers did not fare as well, dropping a heart-breaker 6-5 in overtime. Detroit overcame an early 2-0 Columbus lead and gained the lead by the third period. The game only went to overtime when Mason was pulled for a sixth skater and Captain Rick Nash found the goal with 1:04 left in regulation. Detroit’s Johan Franzen scored a mere 45 seconds into overtime to end the game and leave the Jackets with only one point on the night.

At the conclusion of play this past week, Columbus is 21-20-4 which is good for 46 points and 13th place (out of fifteen) in the Western Conference. The Jackets are six points out of the eight seed in the conference, but with 37 games left on the schedule CBJ still very much controls their own destiny. Their record reflects their play: neither spectacular nor terrible.

The team has oscillated between brilliance (an 8-1 dismantling of St. Louis in November) and frustrating (starting 2011 by going 0-5). There is a lot of talent on this team and if they are able to play together, there is a chance for a second half surge. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see whether or not new coach Scott Arniel can rally this team around the flag.

The Week Ahead

The Jackets will be back to work on Tuesday when they travel to the Sunshine State for a contest with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The next day they have a date with the Florida Panthers in Miami. They will then round out the quick roadtrip with a Saturday matchup against the St. Louis Blues.

Nash Named to All-Star Team

Last Tuesday it was announced that Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash will play in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. The 26-year-old captain has 39 points on the season and is ranked 9th in the league with 21 goals. This will mark Nash’s fourth consecutive All-Star appearance and fifth overall. The format for this year’s game is slightly different than previous years. Instead of assigning players to teams by conference or nationality, there will be two captains who will hand-select their teammates akin to a pickup game during recess. The game will be played on Sunday January 30, 2011 at 4:00 PM in Raleigh, North Carolina and will be broadcasted on Versus.

Columbus Crew and the MLS Draft

Professional soccer has always been the fourth (or sometimes fifth) option in the American sports scene. So when the annual MLS Super Draft comes around, it lacks the hoopla of the same event in football or even baseball. However, if you were paying attention to the Columbus Crew during Thursday’s draft you probably noticed two things: (1) They like the Big Ten, and (2) They picked up some talented players.

With the twelfth overall pick, the Black & Gold selected Rich Balchan, a defender from the University of Indiana. The 21-year-old former Hoosier is a two time Big Ten-All Tournament Team as well as being named to the 2010 All Big Ten first team.

The Crew refused to rest on their heels after this selection and swung a deal sending Steven Lenhart to the San Jose Earthquakes for the 15th overall pick. Columbus then acquired Justin Meram, a forward from That School Up North. He had a very respectable senior campaign, finding the net 17 times along with 8 assists in 23 games. After transferring from Yavapai College following his sophomore year, he finished his two years as a Wolverine with 24 goals and 14 assists in 41 games. Both years he was named to the All-Big Ten second team and was also on the 2010 NSCAA All-Region Second Team.

The second round saw the Crew acquiring Duke midfielder Cole Grossman who, in four years as a Blue Devil, recorded 25 goals and 24 assists. He was twice named to the All-ACC Team. Unlike the drafts in the NFL (7 rounds) and MLB (571 rounds), MLS only has three rounds of picks. So with their final pick in the draft, Columbus selected Bernardo Anor, a midfielder from the University of Southern Florida. Anor finished his final season at USF with six goals.

Some rooters may not like the trade of fan-favorite Lenhart, but facing the departures of Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Frankie Hejduk among others, the team had to make some deals to acquire the players they think will give them the best chance to win. The team fans will see on the field this spring may not be the same one they are used to and only time will tell if the new pickups will be able to provide the boost needed to excel in the regular season and hopefully the playoffs as well.

Fun Draft Facts:

  • Five of the first eight players taken were members of the University of Akron national championship team.
  • Ohio State midfielder Matt Gold went to Toronto FC with the 32nd pick and fellow Buckeye Konrad Warzycha went to Sporting Kansas City with the 46th pick.

Corey Barnes is a third year at The Ohio State studying business. He hails from Cleveland, Ohio and has a profound understanding of sports suffering and mediocrity. In addition to this column he also writes sports things at www.buckeyenerd.tumblr.com.

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