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OTF Travel Diary - Columbus and the All Star Game

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The infamous OTF gang headed to the cold grey earth above the Ohio River, and returned to tell the tale. Columbus charmed many people in the hockey community last weekend. We'll take a further look at the scenery, people, and layout that was All-Star Weekend in Ohio's capitol.

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

When the All-Star Game was first awarded to Columbus, it was a different time. In 2012, the fans were irate with the team. The GM was Scott Howson, and the Jackets were a bad product on the ice. The NHL threw Columbus a bone, and awarded the team the 2013 All-Star Game. A game that never happened thanks to the lockout.

Fast-forward to 2015, and the Blue Jackets have made some signings and done some much better drafting. Columbus might be pretty good before too long. But for now, Nick Foligno is an all-star and we're living with that.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS:

THE TRIP

Dan: We left early in the morning on Friday, and managed to make some decent time and get there before the credential deadline. Driving through Ohio between Cincy and Columbus features far more farmland than expected. It also featured much more Confederate flags painted on the roofs of barns than expected as well.

Jon: My takeaway from the drive up came while passing Bowling Green, when I noticed new apartment complexes built along side I-65. From the amount of times I drove that up and down that corridor in college, I like to think I memorized every minute detail between Exits 22-28. Seeing it different than your mind remembers sticks with you.

Jason: The highlights of the drive? Well, we stopped at was was likely the worst Burger King in America for lunch, so that was fun. And what's the deal with all the water slides in Northern Kentucky/Southern Ohio? We saw approximately 1000 water slides, probably enough to slide all the way back to Nashville. And Dan is right about the flags...they may have the Blue Jackets, but lots of folks are still fighting the War of Northern Aggression in Ohio. Puzzling.

FRIDAY

Jason: We arrived at the credential office with about 30 minutes to spare, mostly because I forgot to calculate the loss of an hour by traveling to EST when planning our departure. When we got to the front of the line, they told us we "weren't on the list" so I dropped a "don't you know who I am?" and they fixed it right up.

Dan: After checking into the hotel, we soon discovered that our hotel was home to a chess tournament and golf show. We assumed it was a contraband convention as well. Also, our hotel was essentially invisible to our Uber driver.

Jon: Embassy Suites, however, knew Nashville's #OfficialOnlineMedia contingent was coming, and they set us up with digs on the "Premier Floor." This meant we got a PIN that we could use on the vending machines for unlimited juice, soda and snacks. In unrelated news, I don't have to do grocery shopping for the rest of the week.

The Uber driver Dan mentioned took almost 30 minutes to pick us up to take us to the Fantasy Draft. According to the app's map, the dude was driving all over the airport runways before figuring out where he needed to be.

Jason: Uber did NOT have an All-Star Weekend.

Dan: From there we made our way to the Columbus convention center for the draft. From where I was in the convention center watching the draft, I can now comfortably say that 'Hawks fans lead the league in leather jackets.

Fantasy Draft Stage

Jon: The media was relegated to a separate workroom in the convention center to watch the draft on a big-ass projection. We saw what you saw, with the exception of an up-to-the-minute lineup of results on either side of the screen. One of my favorite parts of the night came in the scrum with Filip Forsberg after the draft. A reporter asked him about guys "staying hydrated" throughout the show, which gave everyone in the scrum a nice chuckle.

But Forsberg gave a short non-answer about "a big game coming up on Sunday and it's important to stay hydrated." Like, with water. If his body language was any clue, he didn't pick up the obvious dig at players being visibly drunk on stage. Whether intentional or not (to me he just didn't understand the phrasing of the question) his innocence makes him even more endearing than he already is.

Jason: While it was a little weird to drive to Columbus so we could watch the draft on TV, it was entertaining to hear the press cracking up at all the jokes. I wonder if they (we) were the perfect audience. Did most of those jokes land at home? They ALL did in the press room. Oh, and in case you missed it, here's an example of the type of insight we brought to the coverage:

Dan: The media reception was fun, and at a very good place. The food options consisted of pretzels, pulled pork (it was good), and some other fare. Between the billiards and the company, a great time was had by all.

But then, we were convinced to go to what we may all agree is one of the worst establishments we've ever visited. We left after about 15 minutes. Anytime we're comparing the ambiance and smell of your bar to a Louisiana truck stop, you have problems, Char Bar.

Jon: If you ever want to know what it'd be like for a bar to exist in the bottom of a sewer system, Char Bar is the place for you.

Jason: The Char Bar only stunk if you were INSIDE. Out back, it smelled like a cotton candy e-cigarette. Because someone was smoking one. I had a good time at Gaswerks, home of our media reception. The food was good (and free), the drinks were good (and free) and the pool tables were plentiful (and free). Come to think of it, my review *might* be influenced by what I actually paid. Hard to say. Folks on Yelp seem to have formed a different opinion (some of these are hilarious):

Yelp Gaswerks

SATURDAY

Dan: I'll be honest, I was in no way prepared for Fan Fair. I would compare it to Hunter S. Thompson walking into Circus Circus. There was smoke, there were mascots, there was bad music. And admittedly, I was not 100%.

Especially after Fin assaulted me.

Jon: I had two goals for the weekend: get a picture with the Stanley Cup, and get a picture with every single mascot. The task proved daunting, but within a minute of walking into the Fan Fair, the N.J. Devil walked right past us. Within a few minutes, a significant dent was made in the quest. But more on that a little later...

The fair was great. Everything from being able to get an up close and personal view of all the trophies, to all the different skills events laid out, as long as you didn't mind waiting in line. In hindsight after the Hardest Shot competition that night, it's sobering to see the average joe crank a puck at a speedometer, and only hit about 17 mph.

Jason: Agreed on the greatness of the Fan Fair. Tons of activities, mascots, food, memorabilia. It's definitely a can't-miss for next year. The only thing to keep in mind is that the lines for EVERYTHING were crazy long. It probably didn't help that we were there in the prime hours of the day, but it's something to think about if you hate standing in line-or if you have kids that hate standing in line. Here's a quick shot from inside the Disco Nightclub Dance Party Extravaganza Fan Fair (Appletinis not pictured).

Helmet Smoke

Dan and I also got a chance to hit the draft stage, and while we were "drafted" to Team Toews (GROSS), it did give us the opportunity to examine the jerseys up-close. My verdict is "eh, not bad". The whiteness was kind of cool, but the shield was MASSIVE and felt like a giant platter on your chest. Don't think I would buy one, even though putting Forsberg #9 on the back would improve it significantly.

Draft Table

Dan: I will never understand the idea behind wearing gym shorts with a jersey. I caught 5 people wearing this combination for the weekend. It wasn't just a 5k thing.

Jason: In addition to the Fan Fair, there were several outdoor activities. We participated in none of them. They looked great, though. There was a giant bar next to the skating rink, a snow slide across from the arena, and open fires with folks roasting s'mores. Yum.

Smores

The line for the slide was crazy-long...except as we headed out of the arena on Sunday night. Of course. Will they have stuff like this here next year? I certainly hope so.

Snow Slide

SKILLS COMPETITION

Dan: I was the only guy I saw wearing a Weber sweater. So I got some looks, but no one said an ill word or anything. I was seated next to a few Penguins fans, whom I felt sorry for since their only player to pull for was Marc-Andre Fleury. It's not like Crosby was promoted for this event or anything.

Jon: You'll never forget where you were the first time you heard the Cannon. That thing is LOUD. You can feel the it in your chest, and the sound does not translate well on television.

The game-ops trolls let it loose at random times all weekend. Sometime after introductions and before the competition started, it was introduced to my poor ears. My nose was buried in my computer, and had I been taking a drink it would have ended up on myself, my equipment, and everyone below me. I still think the thing is awesome, though.

Dan: I was nervous when I saw the lineup for the hardest shot, mostly because of Dustin Byfuglien. It's known that Weber was the favorite for this, but I've always believed that Vikingstad Smith would be great at this event. So when he only shot at sub-100 mph levels, I relaxed. Then Shea missed the net. So worry crept back in.

Worry was then dissolved. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see the radar gun results. The players and other half of the building could, and that's what that "WHOA" reaction is. For the rest of the night, I would hear comments about his shot all around the concourse.

That Forsberg kid is mighty special. He got a big rise out of the crowd during the relay, and the shootout goal brought the house down. It would've been nice to see him during the gimmick shootout competition, but whatever. Also, the skills competition really missed Corey Perry. The first half was pretty tame, and no one would've helped it more than him and his crazy lacrosse stick tricks.

Jason: From our perch high above the ice, we could't see the radar reading either. All I heard was a gasp from the people who could. When they finally showed the number...let's just say I might've cheered in the press box.

Jon: Seeing all those players wearing a ton of different jerseys was a spectacle to behold. It's not often that much variety graces a single rink. Even with having to be dialed in to two specific players for a moment that passes as quickly as it came, seeing all the other players was fantastic.

Though I'm a little furious that I missed out on Pekka Rinne taking pot shots at an empty goal across the ice.

SATURDAY NIGHT

Dan: Firstly, I did not handle downtown Columbus well after the game. It took all day for me to get back into game-shape, so I was excited to see what downtown Columbus had to offer for nightlife. There was this ski lodge themed place next door to the arena that promoted their hot cocoa for $1, and spiked cocoa for $2.

Cocoa

It was a cold Saturday night with a big event at the arena that ended before 10pm.

And to make matters worse...

Yep. I reacted to this poorly.

The Arena district is very pretty, but I guess I'm used to the unhinged madness of Broadway. Next year, VUMC might want to set up a triage in the old convention center to handle those who won't be able to handle Broadway/2nd Ave. People seemed to really dig a collection of chain restaurants around the arena, so God help them next year.

Having had success in St. Louis, we took our talents to the local casino. Regardless to how we performed, we were upstaged by two other guys trending in different directions. One man absolutely cleaned up at the blackjack table, and recognized me on Sunday in the upper level. Another gentleman had possibly the worst hour stretch at a table I've ever seen. He wasn't wearing hockey team gear, but his mates were. I'll let you guess the team: he kept throwing gobs of money at his problems, kept rage betting, and kept losing over and over.

Jason: The "skill" of the dealer cannot be overstated here. I guarantee she locked down Employee of the Month that night. I suspect she wins it every month, since the band took a break from their Florida-Georgia Line covers every time she came back from break to play this as she jogged in from the bullpen:

Jon: I probably shouldn't have told him to double down when he was already playing $150 hands, but you always double when you have an 11 against a dealer's 6. I don't know what was worse, seeing him dig into his pockets and pull out wads of crumpled Benjamins several times, or watching his buddies giggle while he did it.

Jason: No, you should't have. It was funny, though. Especially since the guy was too hammered to even comprehend what was going on. The dude easily lost about $3,000 in an hour, but his buddies seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride. Like they'd seen him do this exact same thing (or worse!) before. Wild stuff.

Dan: The man was the [NHL team he likely supported] at the table. He was throwing money at his problems, getting angry, and being mocked by his fans.

Go on, guess the team.

SUNDAY

Dan: We got our picture with the Cup. That was about all we wanted to do at Fan Fair, and we succeeded quickly. This was an absolute victory. We caught up with Josh Cooper, who convinced us that Subway was a better lunch option than some Southern themed place near the arena. He did have a point, we were driving back immediately.

Jon: The rules for your picture: "You can do whatever you want with the Cup. You can touch it, kiss it, but DON'T pick it up. You'll also only hand them one device for you to take pictures with."

The whole thing was over in about two minutes, but they let us take a group shot as well as individuals. I really wanted to see if this was the honest-to-goodness Cup with the XXXX over a name for the 83-84 Oilers, but between sensory overload, time, and just marveling at the thing, it didn't happen.

Jason: Man, two minutes might even be stretching it. You wait and wait and wait in line, only to be presented with a bunch of rules, there's tons of people all around, they take your picture, then you're gone. I don't even remember looking at it. But I have a picture proving it was RIGHT THERE, so I guess it happened.

THE ALL-STAR GAME

Dan: Due to going as part of a spur-of-the-moment decision, I needed to buy my seats. I used a known ticket website, and they were set up on site at a hotel boardroom. It was the greatest ticket buying experience ever.

And the seats were awesome. Nationwide Arena only has two tiers, and has some great sight lines.

Jon: After setting our stuff up in the press box, Jason and I went down and chatted with the guys who stand next to the Cannon all game. My main concern was for the people that sit directly below it every game, and how they still have the ability to still hear. They let us in on the secret of the device, (which isn't really a secret since FoxSports Ohio did a whole story on it): no sound comes out of the Cannon. Only fireworks.

The sound you hear is actually a mortar blast being fired in the rafters. Hooked up to the arena speakers, it echoes throughout the entire building. Despite the illusion being shattered, it's still great, no matter how many reporters were complaining all weekend.

Jason: Getting into the arena before the public was really nice. We got a chance to check out the pro shops (which were running low on tons of stuff) and walk around the concourse a bit. If you've never been to Nationwide Arena, it's a really cool layout. The lower level is completely open, so you can actually see the ice if you're walking around or getting something to eat.

Dan: The game was not received well by the fans. The mistake was making one team the local favorite, and when that team fell behind, people were quiet. It was like watching a beer league game with pyrotechnics, and the fans began leaving in the late third period. Other than Rick Nash scoring, they were quiet after the first. Somehow Ryan Johansen got the MVP award, which seemed silly compared to Voracek or Tavares receiving the "honor", but the game itself was silly so this was deserved.

Jon: The game was not received well by the media, either. Let's be honest, it was boring even with the millions of goals scored. Jason went to bathroom right as the second period started and missed like four goals in the minute or so he was gone. There were only two things I really enjoyed - Lumbus fans Bronx cheering Marc-Andre Fleury every time he touched the puck of made a save, despite being the "home" goalie, and this:

Jason: After the game, we headed down to the locker room. What a mess. Like being packed in a can of sardines. Plus, it was snowing and we were hitting the road right after we left...not the ideal time to be stuck in the bowels of the arena for who knows how long. We were treated to this little exchange though during Shea Weber's availability:

Reporter Guy: Shea, you haven't scored yet. You've been here a bunch. Does it bother you at all?

Weber: No.

Reporter Guy: No? Doesn’t matter?

Weber: Does it bother you?

Reporter Guy: Not really, no.

Weber: Ok. I’m just here having fun...

After that game-winner from The Captain, we hit the road.

EPILOGUE

Dan: My lasting impression of Columbus is a good one. It's a nice downtown, especially if you work for Nationwide, the state, or the CBJ. The idea that bricks make for a good sidewalk and street material in a place that snows and freezes regularly seems a bit off, but it looks great. The arena, as mentioned, is still one of the best in the league. And no one is supposed to care what I think, but I've never been asked about my opinion about a place before in my life. "How is everything?" "Do you like Columbus?" I may have been asked 8-9 times. The answer is I do; I'm admittedly not a big fan of Ohio or any place that's consistently cold enough to freeze beer, but Columbus isn't a bad place for hockey at all.

Jon: I had a blast last weekend. (Get it?) No matter where the fans were from, they were all receptive and eager to talk about hockey. Shoutout to the Lighthouse Hockey reader that told us our OTF sweatshirts were cool! I didn't get to try as much local food and beer as I wanted, but thems the breaks when you're there to work and the NHL and Embassy Suites are providing most of your meals.

The crowd at Nationwide Arena definitely piqued my interest as to what it would be like for an actual game. For the weekend, though, Lumbus fans were representing their city well and certainly made it a treat to wander around. It's just too bad it's in the Midwest.

Jason: Columbus really did a great job. They had 3 years to prepare, but still. Everything was within walking distance. Parking was cheap and plentiful. Everybody seemed to be advertising $2 beers.  There are several great hotels right near the arena that are probably wide open on non-All Star weekends. The arena itself would rank right at the top amongst the six or seven I've been to for NHL games. The only thing that *might* drag it down a touch was the Skyline Chili...but I suppose some people like it:

Dan: I would never soil my body with Skyline. This is an outright lie.

Jason: Thanks to the NHL for credentialing us for the weekend, thanks to the Nashville Predators players and staff that we spoke to, and thanks to Columbus for being fantastic hosts. Ok, Nashville...you're on deck!