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Before the All-Stars, Before the Blue Jackets, there was the Chill

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Former Columbus Chill President / GM Dave Paitson and freelance writer Craig Merz have co-authored the new book “Chill Factor: How a Minor-League Hockey Team Changed a City Forever.” We asked Craig to give us his thoughts as the city heads in to the much-anticipated NHL All-Star Weekend.


chill-factor1-304xx1656-2484-0-0Hockey in Columbus reaches a level unseen, and for many long-time local fans of the sport, unforeseen when the NHL All-Star Weekend descends upon our city January 23-25.
Beginning with the Fantasy Draft the first day, followed by the Skills Completion and finally the All-Star Game, Columbus will be in the bright lights on an international stage as the best players in the world converge on Ohio’s capital city.
I have no doubt the thousands of visitors and media members will leave here knowing that Columbus is the world-class city that I dreamed it could be while growing up on the north side of town.
What many, even those well-versed in hockey, may not know is that Columbus has a long history in the sport. In the new book Chill Factor that I co-authored with former Columbus Chill president and general manager David Paitson, we chronicle how the city reached this grand stage.
No, hockey in Columbus didn’t begin in June 1997 when the NHL awarded the city an expansion franchise.  Actually, the roots go much deeper than the Blue Jackets.
Last year the Ohio State men’s hockey team celebrated its 50th season. In 2016, Columbus will mark a half a century since its first pro hockey team – the minor league Checkers – took to the ice at the Fairgrounds Coliseum and from that franchise a gruff but lovable Canadian named Moe Bartoli would become the “Godfather of pro hockey” in Columbus.
Initially, professional hockey in central Ohio was unable to break through to the casual sports fans.  The Checkers were quickly followed by the Golden Seals and Owls before Columbus was left without pro hockey from 1977 until the Chill entered the scene in 1991.
There are many responsible for bringing this All-Star event to Columbus but if you walk back the timeline the Chill will be the first in line and by far the most impactful. Colorful personalities such as “Rosco” and “Smurf” immediately won the hearts of fans while innovative and edgy promotions engineered by the “Chill’s Merry Marketeers”, as ABC World News Tonight described them, captured their minds.
Without the franchise’s vision and persistence there wouldn’t be the Blue Jackets and thus the NHL All-Star Weekend in the beautiful Nationwide Arena in the bustling Arena District, a barren area 20 years ago that was dominated by an abandoned, crumbling state penitentiary.
The Chill became a first-year phenomena but its existence was threatened by a scheduling snafu with Coliseum officials before the second season. Strong public support for the Chill caught the attention of then-Mayor Greg Lashutka, and with his assistance, the issue was quickly resolved and within days he announced plans for a commission to study the possibility of building an arena in downtown Columbus.
Little did he know then that his actions would be the genesis for the NHL All-Star Game in Columbus.
But Paitson and the Chill staff, a bunch of outsiders who saw how sports transformed Indianapolis, then moved to Columbus and saw potential its residents couldn’t envision, had bigger ideas than running a double-A level team out of a 5,700-seat facility that opened at the end of World War I.
The Chill was the leading advocate for a Downtown arena and the NHL but also invested in central Ohio by opening the Chiller Dublin ice facility in 1993 at a time when there was one permanent ice sheet (OSU Ice Rink) and Upper Arlington fielded the only high-school team.
The Chill was in existence eight years but its legacy endures.
Today, there are 13 sheets in central Ohio, almost three dozen schools team and nearly 10,000 youths and adults playing recreational hockey or involved in figure skating as ice sports have become a cornerstone of the community.
Columbus isn’t Hockey Town but it is a hockey city as the rest of the world will soon discover.

Craig Merz covered the Columbus Chill from start to finish as part of a quarter century of reporting for The Columbus Dispatch. He is now a freelance journalist in Columbus.

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Op-ed: Whitehall mayor responds to recent negative press

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As the City of Whitehall, Ohio begins a new year and reflects on the successes of 2018, we were disappointed to see a 614 Now headline reading, “Whitehall takes top spot in ‘10 Most Dangerous Cities in Ohio’” based on a November 3, 2018 blog post on RoadSnacks.com.

We strongly disagree with some of the methodology that the study relied on in making their opinion on the level of danger in our community. The safety and well-being of our neighbors and business partners always will be our number one priority and, thanks to a number of initiatives we’ve undertaken, our community is experiencing great momentum.

Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard

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Our Safer Whitehall initiative, which includes the establishment of a specialized narcotics unit, the hiring of additional and the enhanced training of police officers, adding four new K-9 officers and our proactive Mobile Community Watch has all led to additional arrests being made, thus we are seeing lower crime rates. In fact, since the beginning of 2017, violent crime has decreased by 48%, robberies have decreased by 47% and theft arrests have declined by 22%. These are statistics from the Whitehall police department.

This positive and significant upswing in statistics can also be attributed to our aggressive approach to rid the community of criminal activity through increased economic development and innovative training for businesses and residents on how to prevent and decrease crime.

Great things are happening here. Heartland Bank and The Wasserstrom Company have moved their headquarters to Whitehall. The Whitehall Community Park is undergoing a multi-million dollar update with a new Community Park Y. And, the $50 million Norton Crossing project is underway at the gateway to our city – the intersection of Broad and Hamilton.

We are extremely proud of our community. We invite everyone to visit our city and see the progress we are making each and every day. 

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The Closing Volley

This is my final letter as editor of (614) Magazine. Those are among the hardest words I’ve ever had to type. I’ve always told myself that I wouldn’t stay in this seat forever, but it’s still hard to prepare for the day when “not forever” arrives at your door, leaving even someone like myself at [...]
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This is my final letter as editor of (614) Magazine. Those are among the hardest words I’ve ever had to type.

I’ve always told myself that I wouldn’t stay in this seat forever, but it’s still hard to prepare for the day when “not forever” arrives at your door, leaving even someone like myself at a loss for words.

As a little inspiration for one last Opening Volley (by my count, the 102nd), I reflected on my first one, penned June 2010:

“I’ll put my own stamp on the magazine, sure. Most likely, some of these ideas haven’t yet presented themselves to me.”

If only you knew, you big dum-dum.

I’d love to give myself points for prescience there, but how could I have known what this would all mean? How could I have known we’d last at all?

I didn’t know we’d print a story about a long-forgotten Columbus swimmer that would lead to justice for his legacy in the Wall Street Journal (Thanks, Lori Gum).

I didn’t know I’d watch my Uber driver make global news and come out of the closet on The View four months after picking me up on a random Friday (Thanks, Trey Pearson).

I certainly didn’t know that I’d win an *Emmy for the least amount of work I’ve ever done on something so cool, hosting a food show called NOSH. (Thanks, NBC).

(*Regional, and the interns always assume it’s just a prop sitting at the front desk).

I did know that when I first sat down in this chair to write this letter that I was sitting in a position that was perfectly suited for me—even though it was something I never could have aspired to back when I was starting out.

I didn’t know it would give me the most satisfying and fulfilling time of my life, a period of feverish creativity, passionate collaboration, and an intense feeling of civic pride I’d not previously enjoyed.

“What (614) will continue to do is to present Columbus as the diverse, interesting—and growing—Midwestern hub that we feel it is. To hell with that Cowtown bit.”

My thesis statement in that first letter—I called a shot I didn’t have the right to. But damn, if we—and I do mean we—haven’t helped accomplish that in this last decade. We used to have to prove that we were more than college football and chain restaurants. Now, we’re having spirited debates over the loss of cocktail bars and craft breweries.

It’s that collective effort to move the Columbus culture that fueled us at (614)—less so than the other way around. I’ll put that humility aside only long enough to say, I do think we succeeded in our goal to make this magazine stand out from the rest of the rack. If I do say so myself, we set a new print standard for those glossy city mags you see strewn about any active city. Yes, we are the city guide—this festival, that band, those food trucks—but it’s always been my hope that we could be more. It’s been my hope that we’ve been able to serve as part of the city’s conscience, and present a curation of our collective personality on display. Maybe we’ve been a guide to what life feels like in Columbus’s modern rebirth, a new outline for a city without an identity for so many decades—other than their incessant, sometimes obsessive search for one.

But, we’ve mostly been YOU. If there’s one thing I’ve been most proud of over the last 10 years and 100-plus issues, it’s that we produced an open-source document for Columbus—an approachable read that gave access to the everyday folk in Columbus. It’s always been a poorly kept secret that if you have an idea that Columbus would love, you have a spot in (614). No credentials or diploma needed. Just someone with the same passion we had. Your new editor-in-chief Jeni Ruisch has it. And I can’t wait to see her era of this funny little journalistic experiment begin.

I’m gonna miss the work like hell—I won’t lie. It’s been one of the great pleasures of my life to put this thing together. I’ll miss wondering what’s on your mind; what stories you were excited to share with and through us.

I’m not going anywhere, though. I have plans and schemes to continue to pay forward what this magazine and this city has given to me. In what capacity? I suppose I am still plotting that chapter, but as always—I’m open to Columbus’s input. In other words:

“Most likely, some of these ideas haven’t yet presented themselves to me.”

Cheers, Columbus. I’ll see ya out there.

Travis Hoewischer, Editor-in-Chief

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Opinion

The Closing Volley

This is my final letter as editor of (614) Magazine. Those are among the hardest words I’ve ever had to type. I’ve always told myself that I wouldn’t stay in this seat forever, but it’s still hard to prepare for the day when “not forever” arrives at your door, leaving even someone like myself at [...]
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This is my final letter as editor of (614) Magazine. Those are among the hardest words I’ve ever had to type.

I’ve always told myself that I wouldn’t stay in this seat forever, but it’s still hard to prepare for the day when “not forever” arrives at your door, leaving even someone like myself at a loss for words.

As a little inspiration for one last Opening Volley (by my count, the 102nd), I reflected on my first one, penned June 2010:

“I’ll put my own stamp on the magazine, sure. Most likely, some of these ideas haven’t yet presented themselves to me.”

If only you knew, you big dum-dum.

I’d love to give myself points for prescience there, but how could I have known what this would all mean? How could I have known we’d last at all?

I didn’t know we’d print a story about a long-forgotten Columbus swimmer that would lead to justice for his legacy in the Wall Street Journal (Thanks, Lori Gum).

I didn’t know I’d watch my Uber driver make global news and come out of the closet on The View four months after picking me up on a random Friday (Thanks, Trey Pearson).

I certainly didn’t know that I’d win an *Emmy for the least amount of work I’ve ever done on something so cool, hosting a food show called NOSH. (Thanks, NBC).

(*Regional, and the interns always assume it’s just a prop sitting at the front desk).

I did know that when I first sat down in this chair to write this letter that I was sitting in a position that was perfectly suited for me—even though it was something I never could have aspired to back when I was starting out.

I didn’t know it would give me the most satisfying and fulfilling time of my life, a period of feverish creativity, passionate collaboration, and an intense feeling of civic pride I’d not previously enjoyed.

“What (614) will continue to do is to present Columbus as the diverse, interesting—and growing—Midwestern hub that we feel it is. To hell with that Cowtown bit.”

My thesis statement in that first letter—I called a shot I didn’t have the right to. But damn, if we—and I do mean we—haven’t helped accomplish that in this last decade. We used to have to prove that we were more than college football and chain restaurants. Now, we’re having spirited debates over the loss of cocktail bars and craft breweries.

It’s that collective effort to move the Columbus culture that fueled us at (614)—less so than the other way around. I’ll put that humility aside only long enough to say, I do think we succeeded in our goal to make this magazine stand out from the rest of the rack. If I do say so myself, we set a new print standard for those glossy city mags you see strewn about any active city. Yes, we are the city guide—this festival, that band, those food trucks—but it’s always been my hope that we could be more. It’s been my hope that we’ve been able to serve as part of the city’s conscience, and present a curation of our collective personality on display. Maybe we’ve been a guide to what life feels like in Columbus’s modern rebirth, a new outline for a city without an identity for so many decades—other than their incessant, sometimes obsessive search for one.

But, we’ve mostly been YOU. If there’s one thing I’ve been most proud of over the last 10 years and 100-plus issues, it’s that we produced an open-source document for Columbus—an approachable read that gave access to the everyday folk in Columbus. It’s always been a poorly kept secret that if you have an idea that Columbus would love, you have a spot in (614). No credentials or diploma needed. Just someone with the same passion we had. Your new editor-in-chief Jeni Ruisch has it. And I can’t wait to see her era of this funny little journalistic experiment begin.

I’m gonna miss the work like hell—I won’t lie. It’s been one of the great pleasures of my life to put this thing together. I’ll miss wondering what’s on your mind; what stories you were excited to share with and through us.

I’m not going anywhere, though. I have plans and schemes to continue to pay forward what this magazine and this city has given to me. In what capacity? I suppose I am still plotting that chapter, but as always—I’m open to Columbus’s input. In other words:

“Most likely, some of these ideas haven’t yet presented themselves to me.”

Cheers, Columbus. I’ll see ya out there.

Travis Hoewischer, Editor-in-Chief

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