Playing professional hockey in your hometown (or province) can present certain challenges. As my colleague Blain Potvin points out, Montreal Canadiens fans want Quebec-born francophone players in the lineup but can be tough on them. Another colleague, Kevin Armstrong, recently reported that the Toronto Maple Leafs are struggling to maintain a “safe haven” where players are comfortable. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Jack Roslovic, born and raised (and trained) in Ohio’s capital city, says the fans are very good to him.
There is certainly no comparison between Columbus and the hockey-mad markets north of the border. Far from it. However, it’s good for locally-born players to know that the fans in Columbus, known as the “5th Line,” take pride in them.
Roslovic’s Youth in Columbus
Born and raised in Columbus, Roslovic spent his teen years playing for the Ohio Blue Jackets in the U.S. Tier 1 Elite Hockey League. In his 14U year, he scored 20 goals and 41 points in 24 games. His U16 year resulted in 23 goals and 53 points in 40 games. (He also appeared in four games with the U18 team.)
Related: All-Time Ohio-Born Lineup
Roslovic spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with the US National Team Development Program, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, playing with the U17 and U18 teams. Playing at the World Junior Championship tournaments, he registered six points in six games at the U17 level and 11 points in seven games with the U18 squad.
In his draft year, he returned to Ohio for a year at Miami University, netting 10 goals and 26 points in 36 games as a freshman. His teen years were impressive enough for the Winnipeg Jets to select him in the first round, 25th overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Roslovic Returns From Winnipeg to Columbus
Roslovic was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets as a secondary part of the blockbuster trade in January 2021 that saw Pierre-Luc Dubois swapped for sniper Patrik Laine. When asked, Roslovic said he made it clear to Laine that Columbus was a great city to live in and play. His prep-work seemed to work. Despite having a season that can best be described as lousy, Laine’s comments in the end-of-season media scrum known as the “exit interview” included these statements about Columbus: “I’ve enjoyed every minute that I’ve been here and feel like this is a great city. I love it here.”
Roslovic’s Love for Columbus: In His Own Words
In his own exit interview, Roslovic was clear about how he felt about playing in his hometown. “It’s a great city. It’s a great developing hockey market. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s weird being at home, kind of. It still really hasn’t settled in the full way.” When asked about not having a full arena for games, he said, “I think once we start getting back to normal and start having some interaction with some fans, that’ll be really cool. I’m here all summer, so I’m sure I’ll be able to enjoy some of that and help out with everyone in the community and once again (I’ll be) trying to keep the spark growing and get the awareness of the 5th Line and the Blue Jackets, more powerful than ever.”
Even without fans in the stands, Roslovic found ways to wow the fans. His game-winning goal on Feb. 8, 2021, against the Carolina Hurricanes was one of the NHL’s finalists for the Fan Choice Awards Goal of the Year:
I had a chance to have a short interview with Roslovic (thanks to my colleague Mark Scheig ).
THW: On a scale of 1 (“Boo!“) to 10 (“Yea!“), how do you feel the Blue Jackets fans supported you this past season?
Roslovic: For me, I’ve always known how the fans are in Columbus. Now being on the team, it’s been a really cool way to see what they are all about, and it’s been so enjoyable. I’m grateful for the 5th line!
THW: You had a few rough spots during the season — do you think the fans continued to support you, even when things weren’t going as well as hoped?
Roslovic: In any sports culture, fans are critics but also great supporters. My experience has had a mixture of both. The love I felt coming home made me want to do great things here, and I think their support drove me to play freely.
THW: Did you notice any change in support from the fans, both for the team and you individually, once the playoffs were out of reach?
Roslovic: Being out of the playoffs is not fun for anyone. Like I said, fans have a right to be mad or criticize a team for underachieving. It shows passion. That being said I think the support was great and we are fortunate for having passionate hockey fans in the city.
THW: How did it feel to finally have fans back in the arena?
Roslovic: I’ve seen that rink packed for playoff games, so the number of fans that were let in at the end of the year doesn’t do it justice. I can’t wait to see it packed again and play in front of it!
THW: Toward the end of the season, your game seemed to click more (especially in the faceoff circle). How did that make you feel as both a hockey player and as a Blue Jacket?
Roslovic: It’s always important to grow in whatever you do, so being able to be consistently better is what every athlete and person strives for. To have that confidence in yourself is really important in the team game that we play.
Roslovic Not the First Columbus-Born Blue Jacket
Born a mere seven days before Roslovic, Kole Sherwood was the first Columbus-born player to pull the Blue Jackets sweater over his head. The free-agent right wing was signed in July 2015. He made his NHL debut with the Blue Jackets in February 2019, playing a pair of games with the big club.
He played three games in the 2019-20 NHL season and six more in April 2021. While Sherwood and Roslovic both appeared in those six games, they didn’t connect on the scoresheet together.
Other Blue Jackets with Local Connections
If you head north on High Street from Nationwide Arena, home of the Blue Jackets, you’ll pass through the Short North and Italian Village neighborhoods and soon find yourself on the eastern edge of the Ohio State University Campus. To date, four former OSU Buckeyes have played for the Blue Jackets.
- Nate Guenin played three games for the Blue Jackets in 2010-11, registering zero points.
- Ryan Dzingel appeared in 21 games in the stretch drive of the 2018-19 season and all nine of the postseason games that Spring. He totaled five goals and 13 points. He was allowed to walk as a free agent along with Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene after that semi-successful playoff push.
- Zac Dalpe was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jackets in Feb. 2017. Twenty-five of his 153 NHL games and six of his 14 points are with Columbus. He’s bounced between the NHL and AHL for a dozen or so years since being a second-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2008.
- R.J. Umberger (sing along with me, Gene Autry and Burl Ives) “the most famous of all” (despite not having a red nose) was a fan favorite, an alternate captain, and a heart-and-soul Blue Jacket for six seasons, 2008-09 through 2013-14.
A number of other former Blue Jackets, including Dan Fritsche (2003-04 through 2007-08, over 200 games), have Ohio ties – he was born in Parma, Ohio – but not direct Columbus ties.
Umberger: The First Ohio-Related Fan Favorite
Umberger is perhaps a unique example of Blue Jacket fans’ acceptance. He was born in Pittsburgh, a city for which Columbus fans have little love. Yet his days playing for the Ohio State University Buckeyes created a special bond between him and the folks in the stands. From 2008-09 through 2013-14, he played 445 games for Columbus, scoring 120 goals and 250 points. He scored the first playoff goal in team history (April 16, 2013, a 4–1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings). He wore the “A” as an alternate captain during his final seasons with the club.
During his last season, coach Todd Richards reduced his role and even made him a healthy scratch during the stretch run to the playoffs. That didn’t sit well with Umberger, and he requested a trade. According to Jaymie Wagner, writing for SBNation.com at the time, he remained a “fan favorite” even after it became known that he’d requested a trade:
(The trade request) appears to stem from the decision by head coach Todd Richards to sit him for several games during the final stretch run. Given Umberger’s long standing with the club and the load he’s shouldered over the years, you can easily see why he felt hurt by that decision, though points to him for not making it a source of distraction during the season or through the Blue Jackets’ playoff series against Pittsburgh. He’s been a big part of this franchise turning around, a hometown favorite, and he will be missed. He believed in this team and this city through some very dark patches, and he’s also been part of some incredible moments.Blue Jackets Will Seek Trade for R.J. Umberger
Thank you, Umby.
Writing for Fansided.com in the summer of 2014, Mike Majeski pointed out that the Blue Jackets no longer need to “play the Ohio State card with Umberger to sell tickets.”
Roslovic’s Future in Columbus
Roslovic is under contract for one more season at a very reasonable salary (a bit over $1.8 million), after which he will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. I predict that what his next contract looks like will depend almost entirely on his performance in the upcoming season. Depending on wheeling and dealing by general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen, he may start the season as the de facto first-line center. If he continues to put forth the effort that’s helped to make him a fan favorite, and if the team decides that marketing players can help sell tickets, then Roslovic appears to be a long-term Blue Jacket.