Rick Nash’s Homecoming: Blue Jackets Star’s Number Will Be Retired
The player who helped build the team will see his No. 61 up in the rafters.
Rick Nash can admit it now: The boos took a toll.
“It was tough coming back and getting booed,” the Columbus Blue Jackets’ first big star recalls of a 2014 homecoming that went horribly off the rails. In Nash’s first game back at Nationwide Arena following his trade to the New York Rangers, the former face of the franchise was involved in two fights and ended up getting booed every time he touched the puck.
It was the same treatment Jackets fans reserved for Jeff Carter, whose poisonous half-season in Columbus still lives in infamy. To add insult to injury, Nash’s wife returned home after the game to find their house had been toilet-papered.
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Did the negative reaction ever cause Nash to rethink longstanding plans to make Columbus his post-hockey home? “No one’s ever asked me that,” he says. “I would have to say it did a little.”
But three years after lingering concussion symptoms ended his playing career at age 34, all seems forgiven between Columbus and Nash. He came back to cheers just four days after his January 2019 retirement announcement to drop the puck for a Blue Jackets game against the Rangers. After being taken under the wing of general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen, Nash was named director of player development in June 2021.
The happily-ever-after continues March 5 when Nash’s number—61, adopted in junior hockey after his preferred 16 was taken—becomes the first in Blue Jackets history to be retired.
“I dreamed of the No. 61 being retired in Columbus,” says Nash, the team’s all-time leader in games played, goals, assists and points. “But you know, when you go to each arena and you look up into the rafters at some of the names that have been retired, I don’t think I ever expected it.”
Nash’s isn’t the only homecoming for a former Blue Jacket. Fans have gotten used to players leaving for bigger markets and more lucrative pastures, but in recent years Columbus has lured a number of retired players back.
There are 14 former players from five countries who have made their post-NHL homes in Central Ohio, says Jody Shelley, who oversees the Blue Jackets Alumni Association. Ten, including Nash’s teammates Derek Dorsett and Jared Boll, work for the team.
Shelley played for three other NHL teams after being traded by the Blue Jackets to Philadelphia in 2008. He returned in 2013 and now works as the color analyst for games broadcast on Bally Sports Ohio.
“This was a town I connected with,” he says.
For Nash, who grew up in Brampton, Ontario, west of Toronto, it’s been home since age 19.
“Even when I got traded, I never sold my house. From the day I got here in August 2002, it felt like a place where I wanted to raise my family. Obviously, our work kind of takes us different places. That happened to me, but Columbus always felt like home to me.”
This story is from the March 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.