Columbus is a hockey town, and there’s plenty of ways to measure just how much it’s grown in that regard since the Blue Jackets started brought the game’s highest level to town in 2000.
There might be no bigger evidence than the fact that three players from central Ohio — all alums of the AAA Blue Jackets junior program — skated for the team this past year in Jack Roslovic, Sean Kuraly and Carson Meyer.
While the Blue Jackets also have one of the most diverse rosters in the league when it comes to international players, few teams across the NHL if any can boast such a local connection on their rosters.
Yet to Roslovic, there’s so much more that can happen to keep building the game in his hometown.
LIVESTREAM: Watch Roslovic and CBJ general manager Jarmo Kekalainen talk to the media about the signing at 1 pm ET at https://www.youtube.com/bluejacketsnhl
“The city is growing,” Roslovic said. “The hockey is growing. It’s still not where it can be — where in my opinion it should be. It’s one of those things that you get recognized and people know that you’re from here and people enjoying having that. Parents see that and their kids see it, and that’s what growing the game is all about.”
And now that he’s signed a two-year contract extension today that will run through the 2023-24 season, Roslovic can continue to be a big part of that growth. It’s something he’s focused on since he arrived in a trade with Winnipeg early in the 2021 season, not to mention a goal he takes very seriously.
“I loved Winnipeg, I loved what they did for my career, but I always wanted to come back home and make an impact here, whether I was playing here or not,” he said. “Now that I have the chance to do it for what’s going to be four years now, it will be a really good experience and even more of an outreach that you’ll have to try to help out as many people as I can.”
While Roslovic already has made a notable impact on the ice, he’s done the same in the community as things have opened up amid the COVID pandemic, work that allowed him to be named the team’s Community MVP for the 2021-22 season.
He established Rosie’s Gear for Goals in 2020 to support aspiring Central Ohio hockey players by equipping them with the gear they’ll need to succeed, while also building a strong community around the sport to help players see through their goals on and off the ice.
Roslovic has also established a partnership with 614 Hockey to create the Jack Roslovic Collection with proceeds benefitting Rosie’s Gear for Goals. Since its inception, the foundation has provided $70,000 in hockey equipment and hockey scholarships for youth in the Columbus area.
Video: CBJ@DET: Roslovic earns hat trick in 300th NHL game
In addition, last week he spent time working at the Mid-Ohio Food Collective while also donating to the food bank the $5,000 stipend he received from the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation for being named the community MVP.
“It’s more of using hockey as a vehicle for making it a better community and for making it a better city,” he said. “What better way to do that than doing it at the highest level in the city?”
Ed Gingher, president and founder of the AAA Blue Jackets, has seen impact someone like Roslovic can have firsthand since Kole Sherwood became the first product of the organization to play for the team in February 2019.
Whereas the success of Rick Nash led to explosion of youth hockey in the city — and No. 61 jerseys on the back of seemingly every other kid in Columbus — the local ties of such players as Roslovic, Kuraly and Meyer makes them popular role models in the community.
“It’s definitely real, and the best part is those young players see these guys at the rinks,” Gingher said. “They’re working out here, they’re skating here, they’re going out to dinner here, they’re playing golf here. They’re available in the community, and they embrace that. And they had those great role models like Rick, but it’s different when the kids are from Columbus or Dublin or Powell.
“You do see more 96s in the youth hockey rinks across the board, and I think you will continue to see that be a very popular number coming through the way we still have some kids wearing 61.”
Of course, none of this would be possible without success on the ice, and Roslovic has staked his claim the past two years as someone who can be a key part of one of the NHL’s youngest and most exciting teams.
He’s totaled 34 goals and 79 points in 129 games with the Jackets over two seasons, posting a breakout season in 2021 and following it last year with career highs of 22 goals and 45 points. He saved his best for last, as well, reaching a new level down the stretch and posting 10 goals in his last 10 games of the campaign, including his first hat trick as a Blue Jacket that included scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in an April 9 victory at Detroit.
“I think I’m getting into the prime of my playing career and obviously I want to keep on growing,” he said. “It’s definitely not going to stop here. It’s definitely encouraging, and it’s a great feeling to have knowing that I haven’t reached any sort of peak yet.”
Both sides are banking on Roslovic continuing that upward ascent, and he’ll be doing it with the support of an entire community at his back.
“Comfortability has always been great here, being able to see family, having friends come to games, having something to talk about with them, not only work but away from work,” he said. “It’s great to have a good, successful group of friends here that push each other and just a great team and a bunch of good people that surround you.
“It’s the Midwest culture, and I think Columbus has a lot of that. Just nice people and people that are always willing to help.”