Friday, September 29, 2000

Blue Jackets visit Gardens

Columbus meets Florida in NHL

By John P. Wise
Enquirer contributor

        There's NHL hockey in Cincinnati. For one night at least.

        The new Columbus Blue Jackets make a guest appearance in Cincinnati tonight, for an exhibition game against Pavel Bure and the Florida Panthers. Face-off is scheduled for 7:35p.m. at the Cincinnati Gardens. Tickets are still available.

        The Blue Jackets are one of two expansion teams preparing for their inaugural NHL campaigns. The Minnesota Wild also begin play this season. By playing a game at the Gardens, the Blue Jackets hope to recruit Cincinnati's minor-league hockey fans to make it to Columbus for a game or two.

        “The benefits of us playing a game in Cincinnati are two-fold,” Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean said. “First, we'll hopefully gain some fans from the market, and second, it's a good way to grow the popularity of the game in general."

        Playing a team led by Bure, one of the NHL's top offensive players, won't hurt ticket sales either.

        “I've talked to (former Cyclones coach and current Panthers coach) Terry Murray, and he says Pavel is going to see his normal amount of ice time,” MacLean said. Bure teams with Igor Larionov to give Florida a potent front line.

        “That will be good for the fans, but not necessarily for us,” Mac- Lean said.

        Cincinnati Mighty Ducks president Pete Robinson, whose family owns the Gardens, anticipates a large crowd.

        “We're expecting a three-quarter-full house, or maybe even a sellout,” he said. “Ticket sales for this game are doing real well.”

        MacLean also said the quality of play will resemble that of a regular-season game, as training camp nears its end and players are fighting - sometimes literally - for jobs.

        “The season starts next week, and there are guys trying hard to make the roster,” he said.

        Robinson said it's nice to play host to an NHL exhibition every couple of years.

        “We do this about every other year,” he said. “But we'd like to start doing it every year. Maybe we can get Detroit to play here next season.”

        The Red Wings are one of two NHL teams for which the Ducks are the top minor-league affiliate. Anaheim is the other. With an NHL team now just 100 miles from here, an annual exhibition at the Gardens is a good possibility.

        “Any combination involving Anaheim, Detroit or Columbus would be attractive to us,” Robinson said.

        AREA CONNECTION: In addition to Murray, two others formerly affiliated with the Cyclones are with Florida. Len Barrie, whose 116 points led the Cyclones in 1993-94, is trying to make the Panthers' roster. So is defenseman Dan Boyle, a former Miami University standout.


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