Blue Jackets Make Stand Against the Unvaccinated

The Columbus Blue Jackets held their media day on Tuesday afternoon at Nationwide Arena. This is the day that Training Camp rosters are revealed. When that roster was revealed, there was one notable absence.

Zac Rinaldo was not on the roster.

Rinaldo Not Welcome at Training Camp

The Blue Jackets signed Rinaldo to a one-year, two-way contract on Aug 13. However President of Hockey Operations John Davidson announced on Tuesday that Rinaldo was unvaccinated and therefore was not welcome at camp.

This is after Rinaldo attended an “anti-vaccine passport” rally in Hamilton, Ontario. According to the Hamilton Spectator, Rinaldo spoke to the crowd and was quoted as saying “I’m not anti-vax. I’m not anti-mask. I’m pro choice.” (From Bernier’s Gage Park Rally Sees 300 Mostly Maskless People Come Out in Support of PPC’s, The Hamilton Spectator, Matthew Van Dongen, 9/16/21.)

Zac Rinaldo Calgary Flames
Zac Rinaldo was banned from participating at Blue Jackets’ Training Camp. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This is the second time a member of the Blue Jackets’ organization was not welcome around the team due to being unvaccinated. Former assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre refused to get vaccinated and was fired by the team as a result.

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The Blue Jackets clearly aren’t messing around. They’ve made their stance loud and clear. If you are unvaccinated, you are not welcome to be around the team. Davidson said that this comes down to team.

“We’re going to have 67 players come into camp and they’re all fully vaccinated, which is really important,” Davidson said Tuesday. “It’s a really important issue for us. It’s a team-first issue. We win as a team and lose as a team. Everything we do, we do together as a team. As we continue to navigate the Covid-19 it’s just no different. We have to do what we have to do.”

“Forward Zac Rinaldo whom we signed to a two-way contract this summer is not vaccinated. Because of that and that’s his decision, the plan is to start him in the American Hockey League and he will not be coming to our Training Camp.”

GM Jarmo Kekalainen added that the ball is in Rinaldo’s court as to what happens next.

“I think the ball is in his court right now,” Kekalainen said. As JD mentioned, we do everything as a team, and that’s the requirement for being a Blue Jacket. We’re going with the group we have here which is 100% vaccinated and we’ll see how it develops.”

It does appear that the NHLPA is reviewing the Rinaldo situation since he has been banned from NHL Training Camp. This is according to Brian Hedger of the Columbus Dispatch.

Where this all goes remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the Blue Jackets have made a stand against the unvaccinated. The line in the sand has been drawn and there doesn’t appear to be any exceptions from their point of view.

Media Day Takeaways

Here are other takeaways from Tuesday’s Media Day.

  • Fans will need to wear masks this season if they plan on attending a game at Nationwide Arena as the indoor mask mandate is in effect in Columbus. At least for now, there is not a vaccination requirement.
  • Kekalainen said that Max Domi (shoulder surgery) is ahead of schedule. “We’ll update when we have something new on them (Domi and Trey Fix-Wolansky.) Domi is ahead of the schedule but that’s going to depend on when he starts on the ice and when he progresses to the contact.”
Max Domi Columbus Blue Jackets
Max Domi is ahead of schedule according to Jarmo Kekalainen. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
  • Coach Brad Larsen has quite the sense of humor. He playfully answered a question about young guys making mistakes and how he’ll handle them. “I think if they make a mistake, that’s it, they won’t play anymore for a lot of games.” But in seriousness, Larsen did go on to say that decisions of that kind have a lot of things go on behind the scenes with video, one-on-one’s, teaching etc. “I’m certainly not going to coach a player with the mentality that if he makes a mistake he can’t get back on the ice. I think that’s ridiculous.” That’s music to several guy’s ears right there.
  • Zach Werenski when asked about the defense made it a point to say that while they are young, they’re fast and are good puck movers. A big story will be how quickly Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean and others get acclimated into the lineup.
  • Werenski enjoyed his time in Chicago representing the Blue Jackets at the NHL Media Tour: “It was my first time doing something like that. Whenever you can go and be around guys, you look around and it’s (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane) just to be around them and see how they handle themselves and present themselves. It’s always a fun time and I had a lot of fun doing it representing this team. It was definitely a busy day for sure.”

Related: Blue Jackets’ Werenski Ready to Assume Role of Team Ambassador

  • Gus Nyquist on finally being able to come back after missing last season due to shoulder surgery: “I can’t wait. I can’t wait to get camp started here and play games soon.”
  • Larsen believes that Oliver Bjorkstrand deserves a chance at showing what he can do as a leader on this team. What is that in Bjorkstrand’s mind? “I’m just going to keep on being myself. I’m not a huge talker in the locker room. For me it’s just leading on the ice and in practices. That’s how I’m going to do it. There’s no reason for me to change. That’s who I am.”
  • Let’s end with fun Jake Voracek. Asked if he thought this was a rebuild for the Blue Jackets, he said he didn’t think Kekalainen would trade for him and his $8+ million cap hit if it was a rebuild. Then when asked if it was exciting to play with young players, he said yes, but only if they listen.

What’s Next

On Wednesday, players will go through physicals and testing. Then Thursday, they will have their first on-ice sessions. Their first preseason game is Monday Sept 27 in Pittsburgh.