The Columbus news media got its first extended interview session with Scott Hartnell yesterday, and it scrutinized him the way a prospective customer might go over a used car. Scratches and dents are obvious. Sometimes problems that lurk beneath the hood aren’t easily detected.
This qualified as a friendly interrogation, but questions about his impressions of his new NHL team, teammates and city showed that reporters still haven’t forgotten that the team’s front office didn’t ask the right questions in 2011 before acquiring a disgruntled Jeff Carter from those same Philadelphia Flyers.
Will Hartnell fit in with the young Blue Jackets? Is the 32-year-old winger the kind of mentor you want for talented kids who are still finding out about work habits, off-the-ice distractions and winning? Is he in a funk about leaving Philadelphia, his NHL home for the past seven years? Does he want to be here?
Everything seems to check out. Hartnell wants to win badly. He likes the players he has met, likes their style of play and already is embracing his role as “the grandpa of the team.” He has “heard nothing but great things about the city” and loves what he has seen of it.
“Todd Simpson, a friend who used to play for Calgary, said ‘Yeah, I was down in Columbus and went to Game 6 (of the playoffs),’ ” Hartnell said. “He said, ‘I was so mad because … all the fans were standing up. I just wanted to sit down and watch the game and enjoy it, and I had to stand up the whole time.’
“And I’m like, ‘That says a lot about the intensity and the passion the fans have.’ That was pretty cool when I heard that story.”
Some of the stories about Hartnell are pretty cool, as well. They show that he’s not just a good hockey player, one who has scored 250 goals and amassed 537 points in 953 NHL games over 13 seasons, but also a good guy.
“A fan on Twitter was kind of making fun of how many times I fell down on the ice,” Hartnell said. “He even had a ticker that he was counting, and I didn’t really know what it was. And I was like, ‘What is this Hartnell Down, 150? And a few games later, it was Hartnell Down 172, and I was like, what is this?’
“So I had my trainer go over and ask the guy (after) warm-ups, and he said, ‘I count how many times you fall down, because you fall down a lot.’ … But instead of having a negative turn to it, I was like, ‘Let’s make some T-shirts and sell them, and we’ll just give all of the money to charity.’
“We ordered a couple of hundred shirts, and they were gone within a few minutes of my first tweet (about them), and it has just gone from there.”
Could the Blue Jackets have a found a better mentor for their impressionable young stars than a player who turned a situation where a fan made fun of him into a charity? He also donates $50 per tumble to the foundation; last year, he fell more than 300 times, costing him more than $15,000.
The charity took kids from Philadelphia to Minnesota for a hockey camp with several NHL players, including himself (he plans to do the same thing here) because, “It’s pretty cool for young kids like that who have never left Philadelphia to fly to Minnesota and experience a ‘pro’ training camp and just have fun with hockey. That’s what it’s all about.”
Well, that and winning. Hartnell is happy to be here only because he believes the Blue Jackets have a chance to be good for several years, and he sees himself playing a key role in that. That starts with beating a Pittsburgh team that knocked the Jackets out of the playoffs.
“The Pens are not my favorite team, probably by far,” he said. “I think they’re only a couple hours drive from Columbus, so I’m excited to stir that pot a little bit and get under Crosby’s and Malkin’s skin and frustrate them like I usually do.”
More than two months before the start of the season, the trade of R.J. Umberger to the Flyers for Hartnell looks like a home run.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.