It's tough following the Columbus Blue Jackets during the team's lean years and not think of the players that scattered the lineup with regularity. It was a motley crew: Derek Dorsett, Derek MacKenzie, and Jared Boll immediately come to mind.
All three were loved and revered by the city when they had no one else to cheer for. Rick Nash asked to be traded. Jeff Carter forced his way out. Other star-caliber players didn't work out and moved on. And despite the apparent talent disparity in most cases, those heart-and-soul guys went out gave their all and the fans respected them for it.
Boll retired this summer after playing in the NHL for 11 seasons – an amazing accomplishment for any professional athlete nonetheless a hockey player.
Boll was known for his fisticuffs more so than his skill. He would skate halfway across the ice to try and throw a big hit or seek out someone who picked on a teammate. It was the same, night in and night out, and you knew precisely what you were getting from him as a player.
His career-high in points was 14; he hit that mark during his second year in the league. After that season he only hit double digits one more time. In a league that is now so focused on scoring, it's a wonder how he stuck around for so long. But coaches and teammates respected how he played the game.
Yet, despite his ineffectiveness at times and his proclivity to take a penalty, the memory of Boll etched into my head is only positive.
Fighting is getting phased out (and rightfully so). The head injuries and the likelihood of long-term trauma isn't worth the risk. It make players like Boll a relic and the last of his generation. You likely won't see a player like him for a long time. It just isn't going to happen.
The amount of effort that Blue Jackets players display in the years ahead will make lasting memories for those coming up and watching the sport. Another generation will have their own Jared Boll.
Expectations were never sky high for Boll and in a results-oriented league, you get a nostalgic twinge remembering that players got by on their heart and soul.
The NHL is better now than it has ever been. It doesn't mean that I'll forget the pathway to a fandom that was forged by players like Boll. I'll always appreciate the lean years for giving me the appreciation for what I get to watch now.
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