On the average day, Anthony Zych, the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets' graphic designer, is fairly busy. He and one colleague are responsible for updating the game program, creating new scoreboard graphics, and doing virtually anything else visual that the organization needs.
But, somewhere amid all that thankless work, Zych has been finding time to produce something else: movie-style posters for each home game.
This NHL season hasn't been kind to Columbus. Picked as a dark horse to come out of the Metropolitan Division, the Jackets are still working to dig out from an abysmal start that saw head coach Todd Richards replaced by John Tortorella, who's more known for sound bytes and attitude than tactical acumen.
But away from the ice, Zych's work has been a welcomed constant for fans. Before every home game, he'll churn out a new poster for that evening's contest. There have been 15 posters total so far this season, each one unique to that night's opponent.
The posters have been extremely popular. They're consistently among the most popular posts on the Blue Jackets' Twitter account and have appeared everywhere from ESPN to Sportsnet.
While each poster is a labor of love, they still take time and have to be done on top of his regular workload.
"On average, I've broken [each poster] down to five to eight hours," he said. "I do research and it's something that I can take home. I have time in the evening and I like to stretch my mind and I like to think. That's what takes up the most time; once I get to producing them, I can set aside a few hours and I just go to town."
Zych's fandom may be scattered—his main allegiance is to the Ohio State Buckeyes, but he also supports the Minnesota Vikings and Boston Red Sox—but both sports and art have always been important parts of his life.
"I was always picking up a pencil or pen or crayon or marker," he recalled. "When these posters started to get more attention, my mom sent me a picture of me sitting in a laundry basket. I'm probably three years old and I'm just sitting there, coloring football helmets and sports logos."
He linked his two passions when he enrolled at Ohio State. "All throughout school, I was very artistically inclined, more involved in the creative process than math and science," Zych said. "Then Ohio State happened and I got into the design program there. I was fortunate enough to get an internship there with the athletics department where I got to work with the football team, and basketball, baseball, volleyball, hockey, all 39 varsity sports there. That was my break into sports and that led me here to the Blue Jackets."
The Blue Jackets had tossed around the idea of making game day posters, but no one had acted upon it, though, until this fall.
"They were more or less an idea that came about three or four seasons ago and it just wasn't something we had the time to invest in; it just wasn't part of our routine," Zych explained. "And I just started doing this year's for fun with the Ottawa one [featuring a Civil War soldier facing off with a Roman senator on horseback] just to keep myself in a creative process. I showed it to our digital department and social media and from there, everything's taken off."
Although he draws upon the influences of artist Ralph Steadman, who illustrated Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, and architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from a design perspective, Zych's posters incorporate pop culture references. San Jose's trip east was announced by a shark with a scuba tank wedged in its jaws; Arizona's poster featured a coyote chasing Columbus' mascot, complete with Wile E. Coyote-style mock scientific names.
"A lot of the pop culture stuff helps [the posters] have more of a social aspect and be shared online," Zych explained. "It's stuff that people are already gravitating towards, like Game of Thrones with the Kings."
Others have a less obvious influence, but carry a more personal touch. Zych's second poster, for example, features a Blue Jackets fan mulching his lawn with blue (Toronto) Maple Leafs.
"The Maple Leafs one is an easy one for me to reference," he said. "I don't know if a lot of people who know the Nike commercial that I really got that idea from, but it actually came up in one of my Youtube lists. I was looking for a video of something else and watched that and thought 'what if I have a guy mulching with maple leafs?"
"I love the Toronto one," he continued. "It's special for me. There's always little hidden messages or tiny little things I like to hide in there; it's actually my dad mowing the lawn and it's our lawnmower. "
The team does not sell prints of the posters, although they did give out 50 prints of the poster for the Nov. 20 Nashville game as part of an online promotion. The demand has been such that Zych recently tweeted that he's working on making the posters artwork—sans gameday details—available as smartphone wallpaper.
But, just like the cliché says about hockey players, Zych is quick to deflect the attention away from himself. It's about doing a job and doing it well; getting recognition is nice, but it's a bonus.
"It's incredibly cool [to see how the posters are being received], but it's very humbling," he said. "I'm not going to walk around and say that I'm the best at something because there's always somebody else out there who can do a better job or do something differently than I can. I'm just fortunate enough right now to be working here with the Jackets where we have the people—our social media team—to get this work out there. So I love seeing all these people sharing the images and talking amongst each other about these designs and these posters. It means more to me to see everybody else enjoying these posters rather than where they're being posted."