Assuming that it was planned and not just coincidence, “Michigan-Ohio Sports Rivalry Weekend” is a very clever and exceedingly marketable idea. I’m referring of course to the Detroit Red Wings visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets on the eve of THE GAME (Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes) at “The Horsehoe” of college football.
The only similar set up coming to mind is the annual November clash Florida St. and Florida used to have, where the college basketball teams play each other on Friday night and college football on Saturday. Of course, given the varying schedules of the leagues involved, it would be hard to pull this off every year.
The Wings took the NHL portion of the doubleheader, a critical battle for Central Division supremacy, 2-1 Friday night.
By Paul M. Banks
The announced attendance was 18,391; well over capacity of 18,144. And a lot of the crowd were Michiganders. The season attendance average for CBJ is 11, 762.
And that crowd of fans from “up north” made some noise when Johan Franzen scored, assisted by Todd Bertuzzi and Vallteri Filppula at 7:04 into the second. Once the 0-0 tie was broken, the Wings fans (and presumbaly Wolverines fans) broke into loud chants of “Let’s Go Wings.”
“It was good of you guys to save some tickets for the fans in red, we appreciate you doing that,” Wings Coach Mike Babcock said after the game. After that statement I had to try and elicit a prediction on the big football game tomorrow.
“I have no idea, but I can tell ya I’m going to sit back and watch, how’s that?” Babcock said when asked who’s going to win the Big Ten showdown at the Shoe.
During a timeout, the PA brought up the game, played The McCoys’ “Hang on Sloopy,” and the Buckeyes’ logo graphic flashed on the screen. This prompted legions of fans to do the O-H-I-O chant and corresponding hand gestures.
The Wings and Jackets came into this game tied for a Western Conference leading 28 points, although Detroit has reached that number in one fewer game. The Wings’ primary rival is no doubt the Colorado Avalanche, with the Chicago Blackhawks being their secondary arch-nemesis.
For Columbus, Detroit is their foremost adversary as the franchise’s only playoff appearance (2009) resulted in a first round sweep at the hands of Detroit, and the Jackets know the road to divisional supremacy runs through the Motor City.
The Wings love to play puck control, and it’s always a challenge for their opponents to overcome their possession-focused style.
“I think Detroit always likes to play like that. They like to have the puck a lot, we knew that going in, we knew we had to bang bodies and go hard on ’em and that’s what we did,” Jackets defenseman Anton Stralman said.
Ohio Stadium gets a lot of hype and publicity, but I saw firsthand why Nationwide Arena has been voted among the best arenas in sports! ESPN The Magazine declared it “the No. 2 stadium experience in professional sports.”
The Ultimate Sports Road Trip rated it the best arena in the NHL saying “This newer arena in downtown Columbus is the anchor for the emerging Arena District, already burgeoning with shops, restaurants and hotels. The venue is spectacular, from its nostalgic brick and stone veneer to its sweeping concourses with blue mood lighting and modern amenities. With a separate practice rink built right in the facility, theme restaurants and great food selection, not to mention a raucous hockey atmosphere, this NHL venue is a must see!”
In my opinion, Nationwide is to hockey arenas what Conseco Fieldhouse is to basketball- perfectly constructed for the primary event it regularly hosts. Now if CBJ can sustain their early season success, and the Wings keep doing what they seem to do every year, a rivalry for the ages will emerge.
History is already in place: Michigan and Ohio fought a border “war” in 1835, and Michigan-Ohio State is considered the greatest rivalry in all of college sports. If these two teams keep battling for divisional, and then conference supremacy, Columbus could unseat Colorado as Detroit’s biggest rival.
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.comFollow paulmbanks