Greenwich’s Atkinson enjoying success with NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets

Greenwich native and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson takes to the ice against the San Jose Sharks during a game last month. — Photo courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets

Greenwich native and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson takes to the ice against the San Jose Sharks during a game last month. — Photo courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets

While disappointed in how his season ended with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Greenwich native Cam Atkinson still has plenty to be pleased about as he closes the door on his rookie campaign.

“It’s every player’s dream to play in meaningful games like we did as the season was coming to a close,” Atkinson said. “It seemed like the last 15 games, everything was on the line and every point mattered. It was exciting to play in those games and it seemed like a different player showed up on different nights. It was exciting to be a part of the final stretch, how we turned heads in the NHL and how people started jumping on our bandwagon a little bit. People were believing that we were a pretty damn good team.”

As a team that was picked to be close to the bottom of the NHL Western Conference, the Blue Jackets entered the final week of the National Hockey League season as one of four teams in the hunt for the final two playoff spots.

On April 21 against the Dallas Stars, the Blue Jackets were looking for a hero, and it was Atkinson’s turn for that game.

The Greenwich native started the game in grand fashion, scoring 19 seconds into the contest. Blake Comeau and Brandon Dubinsky were credited with assists on the play. Atkinson struck again and iced the contest late in the third period. With only 1:40 to play in the game and the Blue Jackets clinging to a 2-1 lead, Atkinson found the back of the net again. This time Jack Johnson and Dalton Prout were given assists on the goal.

Atkinson led Columbus with seven shots on goal and also tallied one hit for good measure.

“I felt good in that game,” Atkinson said. “I was making plays and I was holding on to the puck a little longer. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for those goals. It was great scoring those two goals and helping the team keep their playoff hopes alive.”

For his efforts in the contest, Atkinson was named the game’s top star. Dubinsky was the second star of the game and teammate Sergei Bobrovsky was the game’s third star.

Entering the final day of the NHL season for Columbus, they needed a victory and a Minnesota Wild loss to secure a playoff spot. The Blue Jackets did their part, beating the Nashville Predators 3-1 earlier in the day. After the game, Atkinson and the rest of his teammates were glued to the television, hoping the Avalanche would pull off the upset against the Wild.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen, as the Wild came away with the 2-1 victory and secured the final playoff spot in the NHL Western Conference, pushing Columbus to ninth overall.

“It was tough, especially after working so hard and proving so many people wrong,” Atkinson said. “To be honest, I thought we had a really good chance of making the playoffs because we thought that some teams were going to help us out. Obviously they weren’t able to. It’s like going from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of 10 minutes, as we were watching that Minnesota game after we finished ours. The feeling is very hard to explain, and we are going to work really hard making sure we don’t feel that way again.”

Atkinson finished his season with nine goals and nine assists. One of his goals was scored on the power play and another was a game winner. With the NHL lockout taking over the first half of the season, Atkinson was able to compete in the American Hockey League with the Springfield Falcons. In 33 games there, Atkinson netted a dominating 17 goals and added 21 assists.

“It was great this year,” Atkinson said. “The lockout forced me to play in Springfield for the first half of the season and I think that really benefited me and other players as well. It got us in the groove of playing games again and being in the best hockey shape we could be.”

However, when the lockout ended and it was time to hit the ice at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Atkinson was dealt a setback, as he sustained a high ankle sprain in the NHL preseason. The injury sidelined Atkinson for close to a month, and he missed 13 games before returning to action Feb. 21 when the Blue Jackets visited the Red Wings. In that game the Greenwich native picked up his first point of the season, an assist.

“Slowly but surely I started getting healthy again and started playing,” Atkinson said. “From there it was a great experience. We have a great group of guys and we did pretty good things this year.”

At the start of the season, the Blue Jackets were unable to get into a rhythm and the team struggled to get going, posting a record of 5-12-4 overall. However, on March 3, Columbus was able to score a 2-1 overtime victory against the Avalanche, and that game started one of the best turnarounds in the NHL season.

Since the victory against the Avalanche, the Blue Jackets were on a roll, winning 10 games in the month of March and finishing the season winning 18 of the 26 games played.

“That first half of the season really put us in a hole, but we turned the page the second half of the season and I think we were one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Teams definitely didn’t want to face us. We just started believing in each other and put aside all the personal achievements and started caring about the team goals. It was pretty special what we did in the second half of the season.”

For Atkinson, missing the playoffs by mere inches isn’t going to sit well. During the offseason, Atkinson plans on working on his strength and size, so when a full NHL season is upon him next season he will be ready.

“It goes to show that you could be the hottest team in the NHL in the second half of the season and still not make the playoffs,” Atkinson said. “I think we are all going to train a little harder so that we are ready to go as soon as they drop the puck next season. We are going to work hard in the offseason so we could start next season on a roll.”

In addition to completing his first full NHL season this year, the forward was awarded a two-year contract extension with the Blue Jackets through the 2014-15 season and will receive $2.3 million over the term of the contract.

“Obviously it’s very exciting signing my first two-year contract where I will be in the NHL and can’t get sent down,” Atkinson said. “I am very honored that the Columbus Blue Jackets believe in me and have a lot of faith in my style of game. I am excited to be with this group of guys. I am going to train really hard in the offseason and get my body ready to go for next year.”

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