Gingher helped make Columbus a hockey town
November 14, 2021
Think of Columbus as a sheet of ice, with skate-blade marks on top of skate-blade marks, interweaving over two decades.
Sean Kuraly scored his first and second goals in a Blue Jackets sweater Friday night. It happened in a game against the Washington Capitals in Nationwide Arena. It seems he gets up for the Ovechkins.
Before the game, there was a video tribute to Rick Nash to note that the team plans to retire Nash’s No. 61. It is the first time the team has bestowed such an honor.
Nash’s 61 will go up in the rafters in a ceremony March 5, when the Boston Bruins visit Nationwide. That night, former Jackets captain Nick Foligno, who signed with Bruins over the summer, will make his first appearance in a visiting sweater since Dec. 31, 2010.
On that New Year’s Eve 11 years ago, the Jackets beat the Senators 4-3 in overtime. Foligno had a goal for the Senators, Nash scored for the Jackets and Jake Voracek had the game-winner in OT.
Back then, Kuraly was 17 years old and playing with the Indiana Ice of the USHL. He grew up in Dublin, and his idol was No. 61. In his bedroom, he had a poster of Nash and, above his bed, a Nash-signed hockey stick.
Nash’s 15-year playing career ended in 2018, in Boston, where Kuraly was a Bruins teammate.
Nash now serves as the Jackets’ director of player development. Friday night, when Kuraly scored his first two goals for his hometown team, Nash was on a business trip (in Boston, according to a Jackets official).
The Ed Gingher connection
Ed Gingher was at his Columbus-area home, watching the Jackets-Capitals game on television. A roar went up in the Gingher house when Kuraly scored. There’s a connection between Gingher in Kuraly that is close to familial.
“There’s no better feeling watching a kid you’ve seen grow up achieve his dreams,” Gingher said. “That’s it, right there. It’s so much fun to be a part of that. Special.”
Gingher is president of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets, an organization that fields club teams in eight age groups. Gingher is coach of the U18 team, which plays in the Tier 1 Elite League against teams from all over the continent (most of them with NHL affiliations). Presently, the AAA Jackets are 16-5-2 and among the top three teams in their echelon.
Gingher coached Kuraly and another big Blue Jacket, Columbus-born Jack Roslovic, who also grew up idolizing Nash. Gingher coached Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy, who, like Roslovic, was a first-round draft pick.
Gingher coached the Sherwood brothers, Kiefer of the Colorado Avalanche and Kole of the AHL Belleville Senators. Kuraly, Roslovic, Murphy and the Sherwoods are among 10 players, coached by Gingher, who’ve played at least one NHL game or are in the AHL, knocking on the door.
Gingher has coached 47 kids who’ve gone on to play at the NCAA Division I level and 45 who’ve gone on to play DIII.
“I’m not sure how many at the college club level, the ACHA, but a lot,” Gingher said. “It’s pretty fun to look back at.”
Gingher was assistant general manager of the ECHL Dayton Bombers, a team once owned by his father, legendary minor-league administrator Bud Gingher, while he was still in college. He was GM of the team from 2000-2004, before he was lured to Columbus to build up the Blue Jackets’ junior program.
The Ohio AAA Blue Jackets teams are just one facet of the big club’s philanthropic arm, the Blue Jackets Foundation, dedicated to growing the game in Columbus.
The process moves faster when there are players with star power, such as Nash, playing in Nationwide Arena. It moves still faster when there is success at the NHL level, and the Jackets’ recent run (five playoff appearances from 2014 to 2020) boosted participation numbers.
The growing community of Jackets alumni in Columbus is another factor.
Example: Andrew Cassels coached a number of AAA Blue Jackets teams and was an assistant coach for the Ohio State women’s team. He now spearheads the Learn to Play grassroots program, and his son, Cole, who played for Gingher, signed a free-agent contract with the Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, last summer.
Another example: Cam Atkinson, who was traded to Philadelphia when Voracek was reacquired last summer, co-created the Battery Hockey Academy in Plain City. It is a state-of-the-art training facility for players of all levels and open to the public.
The Jackets are invested in 10 sheets of ice under the Chiller umbrella. Most of the sheets were laid this century. Two more are planned for Reynoldsburg. If the big club’s rebuilding plan goes the way they think it will, if the Jackets make deep playoff runs, demand will further outstrip supply.
“Girls’ AAA hockey is coming back to our program, which is a big part of the growth of our game,” Gingher said. “There’s a good job being done at the grassroots level. We want to develop it. We’ve been pretty successful with the boys.”
If you think of Columbus as a sheet of ice, the number of skate-blade marks weaving on and over skate-blade marks is only increasing. What will it look like 20 years hence? We’re going to need a bigger rink, and never mind about Zambonis.