I grew up in Cleveland. At a pretty young age I fell in love with hockey. My dad would take me to the IHL Cleveland Lumberjacks on a regular basis. I only remember two things from those games. One was watching Martin St. Louis play. (Don't remember the years, just know he was there when I cared.) The other thing was, at that young age. I loved the fights. The fighting is what kept me drawn to hockey. I had to get video games for Sega Genesis. I had to learn how to play. I had to go to every Lumberjacks game I could.
I started paying attention to the NHL via ESPN (while they cared about it) Columbus was not a team yet so the closest was Pittsburgh or Detroit. I wanted to go to a NHL game so bad. I was paying attention to Detroit and Colorado because at that time was the rivalry. They fought so much so I loved that. I begged and begged to go see a game. Being a diehard Cleveland Browns fan, dad refused to allow me to like a Pittsburgh sports team, thankfully. It was set. Dad was taking me to a Detroit Red Wings game in 1997 when I was eleven years old.
Most people, it seems, know the first game they went to. I don't. No clue who the Wings played, who won, what happened or where we sat. I know Dad bought me a shirt and a hat, and that is all I remember. But that was it for me. I only cared about the Wings since then.
The Blue Jackets came along and I got excited over it. I still am. Detroit is far and away my favorite team but I do support the Jackets and want them to succeed, just not at the expense of the Red Wings. I go to quite a few games in Columbus every year, and own a jersey and hat. Of course I go every time the Wings play in Columbus wearing my old Federov jersey.
I still go to Detroit for games at least twice a year. Then usually try to do at least one playoff game each year up there. Its about a three hour drive and usually I, and whoever I am with, go up early and make a whole day out of it. Everytime I go, I can go into almost any general store and there is Red Wings merch. Every Kohls, and Target, and Walmart, and Meijer and whatever else I come across has plenty of shirts and hats to choose from. It is easy to find something to buy for myself if I want something new, and not paying an arm and a leg at the Joe.
Earlier this week, I had to drive to southern Ohio for work, going right through Columbus. I made time to stop and look for a new Blue Jackets shirt. My Rick Nash jersey is obviously a little out of date so I wanted something new. I could not find a thing. I went into three Walmarts, two Targets, two Kohls and even a DIcks Sporting Goods. I saw ZERO Columbus Blue Jacket merchandise. I even asked a few employees and a couple had no clue what I was even talking about. All these stores were right outside of downtown Columbus. Nothing.
I also lived in Phoenix for most of 2008. Same thing. Not that I was looking, but I noticed Coyote gear for sale was about non existent. I went to many games and even asked people I sat near. They had no clue where to get things other than the arena. The district that the arena is in is a beautiful fancy entertainment complex with bars, restaurants, shopping, and both the hockey arena and the football stadium. There was one shop that had sports gear. Still no Coyote things. During the finals between the Wings and Pens I went in this shop. They had a bunch of Wings and Pens gear on sale at that point! No Coyotes.
I realize that Columbus and Phoenix are not great hockey markets. I truthfully do not understand why Columbus is not, but that is irrelevant. But no matter what, I can not believe how hard it is to find hockey attire in Columbus. (and Phoenix) Every time I visit Detroit, I see anything everywhere. I do not know if I was spoiled by falling in love with The Red Wings first and seeing that for years or what. Again, I am aware I am comparing VERY VERY different markets, but still a big disappointment and shock.
Thank God I am a Red Wings fan.