Blue Jackets’ Leaders Help Navigate COVID Challenges & More

It’s no secret. The Columbus Blue Jackets are struggling on the ice.

After a strong 12-6-0 start to their season, they enter Saturday night’s game with the New Jersey Devils on a 3-10-1 stretch where they’ve been outscored 61-38 while allowing at least three goals against in 13 of their last 14 games.

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To say that this has been a challenging season for the Blue Jackets is an understatement. It started with the tragic events of the summer in which they lost their teammate Matiss Kivlenieks in a fireworks accident. They’ve undergone a makeover in their leadership core with the departure of key players. COVID-19 is still running wild around the league so they’ve had to deal with postponed games and adjusting to rapidly changing conditions.

Related: Matiss Kivlenieks Will Be Remembered As A Hero

Now they’re playing their worst hockey of the season. Through it all, the Blue Jackets are still 15-16-1 on the season with a chance to hit hockey .500 if they can defeat the Devils on home ice.

All things considered, that’s not bad. The reason that the Blue Jackets find themselves in this position is because of the way the leadership is navigating all of the different challenges thrown their way. Because of the state of their locker room, they are ready to tackle these different challenges head on.

With perspective from head coach Brad Larsen and players Cole Sillinger, Zach Werenski and Oliver Bjorkstrand, they offer their insight as to how they are maneuvering through everything from their sight. In addition, you’ll see why the efforts of the leadership group are greatly appreciated.

Larsen Praises the Leadership

“There’s been a lot (of challenges) no question. I thought they’ve done a really good job,” Larsen said. “Teams go through these stretches especially when you are a younger team. These stretches get harder and you don’t have the experiences of older teams that have gone through it, what to do and how to handle it.”

“We’ve had that shift in the leadership group. Those guys in our leadership group rarely can look at a game and go ‘they’re not giving it’ as far as their effort, their competitiveness and the things we’re trying to maintain here.”

Brad Larsen Columbus Blue Jackets
Brad Larsen says his leadership group is doing a nice job navigating different challenges this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“So I think they’ve done a really good job. It’s hard. Losing is hard. When you’re winning, your mistakes aren’t as big. Nobody is talking about the negative things that go on. As soon as you start losing, everything gets magnified, right? Mistakes, different scenarios, and now you add COVID and all the challenges with that and guys in and out of your lineup with injuries plus COVID. For what feels like the last two weeks, you’re not sure what your practices are going to look like or who’s going to be in.”

“This is all new for any leadership group. These guys have done a really good job of trying to keep a level head and keep their effort level up every night.”

Sillinger Praises Leadership Group

One player in particular is going through all of these challenges for the first time as an 18-year old. Sillinger has taken everything in stride. But he acknowledges the job the Blue Jackets’ leadership is doing to not only help everyone navigate through the challenges but to keep everyone together as well despite the recent poor on-ice play.

Cole Sillinger, Columbus Blue Jackets
Cole Sillinger says he appreciates the efforts of the leadership group to help him understand what is expected. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“They’re so consistent whether we’re winning or losing, what they’re preaching is consistent,” Sillinger said of the Blue Jackets’ leadership. “I think that’s something for a young guy that I appreciate from them. I know what consistency and what I have to bring to the table every day in what we have to do. They’ve been awesome so far.”

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What is the leadership doing to help keep them moving forward through all of the challenges? According to both Bjorkstrand and Werenski, they’re doing what they would do anyway even if this was a “normal world.”

Leadership Speaks

“We just focus on the things we can control,” Bjorkstrand said. “(By) not being overly negative. I think we need to make sure we stay as a team. We make sure everyone is doing their job. We talk about it just making sure that as a team, we go out there and we try to keep our head up and make sure we all do the right things and work hard. I think that’s the message we’re trying to spread.”

“I really don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary,” Werenski said. “I just think we have a really good locker room. I think the guys that have been here have seen how good our room is. Now for younger guys like Cole (Sillinger) and other guys coming in, I think they can tell that we have a really close group in here and that we care about each other. No matter what the situation is whether we’re winning or losing, we’re all doing it together.”

“There’s no pointing fingers. (We’re) finding a way to get out of this together. I think it speaks volumes to our room. Guys that have been here (and) guys that the organization has brought in. It seems like every year I’ve been here it’s been a close locker room. It’s always fun to come to the locker room when you’re close with your teammates. I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary. It speaks to how close of a room we have.”

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Accountability & Expectations

That is the clear message from the Blue Jackets’ leadership no matter the circumstances. There is an expectation on how to handle themselves everyday whether they’re winning or losing. The leadership keeps each other and other members of the team accountable while showing what is expected in the locker room.

There is something new for everyone involved. Leadership has to navigate unusual circumstances. Considering that this is a new leadership core, there’s always something for them to learn. And then to be able to pass down those lessons to the young guys on the team. The key is staying consistent and level-headed. The Blue Jackets have done a good job of keeping everyone together while they try to figure out a way to end their funk on the ice.

Saturday night is a chance to start a new winning streak. Thanks to the leadership in the room and the way they handle their business, everyone is ready to move forward no matter what challenges continue to come up. It’s business as usual for them, a sign that things will eventually turn around. They have the right attitude in the face of adversity.

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