Tuesday’s Game 3 will mark the Bruins’ first postseason visit to Columbus. It’s also the first second-round home game for the Blue Jackets, now playing their 19th season. The faithful at Nationwide Arena will be having a blast.
The Bruins, not so much.
They have their hands full with their second-round opponent, which loaded up at the trade deadline, has a goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky) on a heater — and boasts the most unusual and unsettling home-ice advantage in the NHL.
In Section 111 sits a cannon, a hunk of metal that has had players, coaches, media, and fans across the league jumping out of their seats since its Oct. 5, 2007, rollout.
“You know when you’re watching a scary movie,” Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk asked, “and someone pops out and you have a heart attack?”
All too well, say those who have played in Cannon Country.
The steel barrel, which rests on an oak carriage, is 11 feet 10 inches long and weighs 1,564 pounds. It “fires” about 105 decibels of replica Civil War fury during pregame introductions, after every Blue Jackets goal, and after every home win. Even the most successful road team will encounter it at least once a season.
Its leaguewide approval rating is low. In the Bruins dressing room last week, it had few fans.
“This is my seventh year, and I’m finally ready-ready, but there’s a few times where you forget about it, and you do one of these,” said Charlie Coyle, jolting forward as if he had taken a shot to the back.
The games and seasons of a hockey career tend to blur together, but the initial shock of playing in Columbus is hard to forget. Danton Heinen made his NHL debut there, on Oct. 13, 2016.
“It was like, ‘Hoooooo-leeeeeee . . .,’ ” said Heinen, going bug-eyed. “Welcome to the league. It shocked me, for sure. It still shocks you every time.”
“I got freaking scared,” David Pastrnak said. “Claude [Julien] was coach, and he said, ‘Don’t get scared by the cannon.’ I didn’t know what he meant.”
DeBrusk did, when Bruce Cassidy told him about it last year. Regardless, he was “scared [witless].”
Smelling salts, the packet of ammonia mixture that some players sniff before games, make Matt Grzelcyk’s stomach turn. But he got the same effect the first time he heard the blast.
“It caught me, bad,” Grzelcyk said. “I didn’t toe-pick, but it startled me. It almost woke me up in a way. I was on high alert the rest of the game.”
Veterans like Chris Wagner know to brace for aural impact, but “it still scares the crap out of me every time,” he said.
Even though Brad Marchand knows it’s coming, “I still jump,” he said. “It’s loud and obnoxious, but it gets the people going.”
Doug MacLean would agree. Not long after the expansion franchise chose an identity that honored the area’s Union Army heritage, some in the offices kicked around the idea of using a cannon for player introductions. MacLean, the team’s first president and general manager, was not a fan. He didn’t give in until he was on the way out.
Expecting to get sacked as the team struggled in spring 2007, MacLean said the team’s booster club, the Jacket Backers, finally broke his resolve.
“They kept sending me e-mails,” he said. “I walked down to the marketing department and said, ‘Let’s get this cannon,’ knowing full well I might be outta there. I said, ‘What the heck?’ This group was so persistent.”
According to the Columbus Dispatch, a couple of team staffers found an 1857 Napoleon-style replica at the Granite City, Ill., shop of craftsman Chris Olson. He was making them for outdoor battle reenactments, not indoor hockey rinks, but he was happy to provide one for about $20,000.
No cannonballs or firing powder are needed. While a crew of four in period costumes hams it up, a local company, Hamburg Fireworks Display, sets off a charge that creates sparks and smoke inside the barrel. The sound is played over the arena speakers. That surprised several Bruins, who believed the cannon, which is pointed toward the visiting bench, was louder at their end of the rink.
The pregame audio din reaches near-unreasonable levels in some NHL buildings — the Islanders’ second home, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, is arguably the worst offender — and Calgary’s nightly opening ceremony features actual jets of flame that have some fans thinking “stop, drop, and roll.”
But nothing in hockey assaults the senses like a CBJ goal.
It has always been the bane of visiting broadcasters, who wear headphones attuned to microphones that capture the sounds at ice level.
“It’s like an explosion going off right next to your ear,” NESN’s Jack Edwards said. “I know it’s coming, and it’s still shocking.”
That will make CBJers smile. For the sadists among them, nothing was funnier than the 2015 All-Star Game. Of the event-record 29 goals that were scored at Nationwide Arena, 12 of them went for the team captained by hometown guy Nick Foligno.
Mercifully, the cannon failed one time. Among a host of similar reactions, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo tweeted that it “has to go.”
MacLean hadn’t been back for a game since he was canned in April 2007. “We were laughing about it the whole weekend,” he said. “The damn thing never stopped going off.
“I kept thinking, ‘This is crazy.’ But it’s become a fun thing. I know it drives people crazy, but full credit to those guys who kept sending letters. It’s a little bit like Carolina. When you get some magic, why not go with it and enjoy it?”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.