Picture it, it’s noon on a summer Tuesday in the suburbs of Columbus, OH, and the Chiller North Ice Arena is packed to the brim with people, both filling the bleachers and circling the rink. Tons of little kids dressed in their favorite hockey jerseys excitedly pressed up against a barrier rope that barely contains all of their nervous jitters. Then a side door opens and out walks the first two teams, made up of not only very notable NHL players but high-caliber talent from the AHL, ECHL, NCAA, and various professional and junior leagues across the world. Between shouts for autographs, selfies, and professions of meeting their idols, you can hear skates take the ice for this new and special way to keep the hockey love alive in the off-season…the Cap City Summer Elite League.
Per their website, “Cap City Elite is a professional summer hockey league in Columbus, OH for NHL, AHL, ECHL, Major Junior, and NCAA hockey players. Our league provides our professional athletes with competitive off-season hockey and gives our community an unmatched fan experience.” All games are free and open to the public, and as they approach the halfway mark through this eight-week league, they have already seen incredible success, with crowds grossing over 1000 in week two alone.
There is absolutely no shortage of talent coming out to participate in the league, having already featured notable Columbus Blue Jackets Boone Jenner, Sean Kuraly, Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic, Cole Sillinger, Nick Blankenburg, Carson Meyer, and Zach Werenski. Not to mention Cam Atkinson (Philadelphia Flyers), Gus Nyquist (Nashville Predators), Jack Johnson (Colorado Avalanche), Kiefer Sherwood (Nashville Predators), Zac Jones (New York Rangers), and Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa Senators). The list goes on and on when it comes to the young, up-and-coming talent participating in the league, which offers an incredible opportunity for the Columbus hockey community to see the future of professional hockey in action.
The four teams are sponsored by some very passionate Columbus businesses that have really jumped head first into helping to launch this league. Each business wanted to make sure their team looked as fresh as possible on the ice, so custom jerseys were made to represent each brand. 614 Hockey rocks a distinctive hot pink and blue jersey, Highbanks Distillery went with a more classic black and white design, Battery Hockey Academy shines bright with a signature bright blue jerseys, and lastly, Bladetech Hockey looks sharp in red and black. Beyond looking great on the ice, these companies standout because they play such a major role in helping to grow the game of hockey throughout Central Ohio, and that hometown pride can be felt all through this league.
Cap City has already proven to be an incredible success within its first few weeks, but how did this event come about? Brought to life by Nick Petraglia (League Commissioner), JC Campagna (Operations Manager), Pat Cannone (Player Liaison), and Joey Nahay (Marketing & Fan Engagement), this group finally decided to stop dreaming about how amazing an event like this could be and took the leap. I got the opportunity to catch up with JC Campagna, who is not only handling the league operations he is also lacing up his skates to play for Team Battery Hockey, to learn firsthand about how the Cap City league came to be and a look into what the future holds.
LN: How did the idea for the league come about & how long have you been working towards making it a reality?
JC: This has been something that we’ve talked about for the last three or four years, and then finally we said “Let’s do it!”. We pulled the trigger, got a team together that we thought could pull it off pretty well, and it seems like we’re doing well so far; we’re really happy about it.
LN: The league has seen pretty immediate success & has been getting talked about around the hockey world – how do you feel about how things are going so far?
JC: I’m really happy about it. At the end of the day, this was built for the players; I can’t say enough about the other guys I work with (the other partners) they are all fantastic. We’ve all put so much work into making this what it is, and now our focus is just continue, keep doing what we’re doing, and keep the success going.
LN: You’ve seen some pretty big stars want to participate in the league so far; how much does it mean to have so much interest from the NHLers?
JC: It just speaks to the growth of hockey in Columbus, of guys willing to stay here in the off-season and train for their season. It’s kind of a trickle effect, as soon as a couple NHL guys start playing, then more ask to play, and you see today, guys that don’t even live here and are just in town visiting that jumped on the ice and are playing in game two. It’s grown so much, and I think it’s just going to get better as more guys get back into town for Blue Jackets camp.
LN: The conversation is always that Columbus isn’t a hockey town, how does an event like this help to counteract that narrative?
JC: I think it shows when we have 1000 people on a Tuesday afternoon to watch a 4v4, 3v3 summer league game it kind of proves that narrative wrong. I think Columbus is one of the best places to play in the NHL, and it is starting to pick up recognition for that. We’re starting to get guys like Johnny Gaudreau to come to Columbus and (Zach) Werenski to stay in Columbus, so it’s starting to overpass its reputation of not being a hockey town.
LN: It’s still early in the league, but with so much success already – are you already planning for next year?
JC: Oh yeah! This year we have five weeks left; we’re going to make sure these five weeks go as smoothly as possible, we continue to do things as professionally as we can, and then next year, we’re going to ramp it up. We want to see what we can change; we’re always asking for the players’ opinions, what could do better, what did you like, what didn’t you like. This week all the boys voted for 4v4, and boom, we moved to 4v4 no hesitation. This is just how our league is going to run; we have everything set up for them in the locker room, we have a lunch buffet after the games for them to eat, and we’re just really trying to run it as an NHL program would run it.
It’s easy to see that the Cap City Elite Summer League is quickly on its way to becoming an incredible annual tradition in Columbus, and it’s definitely keeping the fans’ love for hockey burning in the off-season. If you’re looking for an opportunity to see some of the best players in the NHL and the future stars of hockey up close and personal, make sure to take the opportunity to catch this league play. Games are every Tuesday until August 29, 2023, at the Chiller North Ice Arena, and then the Championship will take place on Thursday, August 31, 2023. All game times, team schedules, and team rosters can be found by visiting capcityelite.com.