On a cold and rainy Saturday, I visited Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, home to the Blue Jackets. The arena was busy being prepared for that night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, a contest they would lose 2-1. Before the game, I was able to spend a few minutes with the team's star forward, Cam Atkinson. We met in the family lounge for an interview.
When he was younger Atkinson played a lot of different sports. He played hockey, tennis, baseball, and some soccer. "Tennis and hockey were my two favorite sports," he says. "Obviously hockey was my number one sport."
Atkinson was selected by the Blue Jackets in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft out of prep school in Connecticut, where he grew up. Before playing professionally, he attended Boston College. During the 2009–10 season at BC, Atkinson scored 30 goals, which led the NCAA. This included two goals scored in the National Championship game that year, which helped his team win the title.
Atkinson is now in his eighth season with the Blue Jackets, making him the longest tenured player on the roster. As a veteran player, Atkinson has taken on leadership responsibilities for the team. He was named an alternate captain for this season. This is an honor which Atkinson says is "Really special. And it shows that the team looks to me as a leader. I try to lead by example with my work ethic on the ice and in the gym."
Before his arrival, the Jackets had only made the playoffs in one of the ten prior seasons. But with Atkinson's help, they have now made the playoffs in three of the last five seasons. As far as his goals for this year, Atkinson says, "The ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Hopefully we can achieve that."
Although smaller than most forwards in the NHL at 5’8”, Atkinson has proven to be a very skilled and capable scorer and is now the third leading scorer in team history. This season, through 32 games, he has already scored 19 goals. When asked if he thinks he will beat his personal best of 35 goals in a season, Atkinson replied "There’s no reason why I can’t. I feel really good and confident on the ice. I just have to keep shooting the puck and scoring goals."
Playing hockey for as long as he has, I asked Atkinson what continues to motivate him. He noted that it is a combination of team goals like “winning a Stanley Cup” and personal goals to “motivate myself to get better every year.” He added “Now that I have a family, I’m trying to provide for them. And that’s the most important thing right now.”
We ended the interview by talking about what makes playing hockey in Columbus special. Says Atkinson: "Not only is Columbus a football town, but also a hockey town. I think that we have a special group of guys here, we are very close to winning a Stanley Cup and bringing that back to Nationwide Arena. The fans deserve it."
With players like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovksy, Seth Jones, and Atkinson leading the way, the team is doing well this season and is challenging for a division championship and a playoff spot. Through 33 games, they sit in second place in the Metropolitan Divisio, only a few points out of first place. With Atkinson's scoring ability and his leadership on and off the ice, it looks like great things could be ahead for the Columbus Blue Jackets.