Between a forgettable season and uncertain future, Blue Jackets enjoy a memorable win

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — It was somehow fitting that all the stars aligned for a Blue Jackets victory to end what was an otherwise forgetful 2023-24 campaign.

On a night that saw the franchise’s longtime television announcer enter retirement, and five years to the day when Columbus upset the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, CBJ headed into an uncertain offseason with a 6-3 win over the playoff-bound Carolina Hurricanes.

There were 17,289 fans that witnessed the season finale for the Blue Jackets. And the number of individual storylines that unfolded Tuesday evening at Nationwide Arena gave the faithful fanbase some hope about the future.

Luca Del Bel Belluz scores in NHL debut

Luca Del Bel Belluz woke up this morning in Cleveland not knowing he’d end up scoring his first NHL goal hours later. The 20-year-old from Woodbridge, Ontario was in the middle of watching film when he got the call that he’d be on the ice for the Blue Jackets on emergency recall with forward Dimitri Voronkov out due to illness.

“There were so many thoughts going through my head. I had a lot of people calling me on the way down,” Del Bel Belluz said.

The forward made an immediate impact in his NHL debut, scoring his first career goal on his first shot of the game. He became the eighth player in club history to score in his debut and fifth to do it at home.

“It’s definitely going to be one to remember. It was just kind of a whirlwind of a day. Not expecting to get called up. Just going to practice in the morning. Regular day and then just like that it switches and you’re on your way to Columbus,” Del Bel Belluz said. “Playing my first NHL game is something that you dream of as a kid and something I’ll always remember.

It’s just too bad his parents didn’t get to see it, even though they were at Nationwide Arena to see him play.

“He was called up this afternoon and I believe somebody told me that his parents were in the elevator when he scored that goal,” head coach Pascal Vincent said. “Just too bad. But that’s a good story in 20 years.”

Zach Werenski sets a franchise record in season finale

Zach Werenski was on the Blue Jackets when they pulled off that memorable sweep of the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning five years ago, which marked the first playoff series win in franchise history.

Five years later, he’s in the record books for an individual achievement. Werenski’s assist on Del Bel Belluz’s opening goal set a new franchise record for most assists in a single season by a defenseman. By the end of the night, Werenski had four points with two goals and two assists and became the sixth player in Blue Jackets history to reach 300 career points.

“I owe it to a lot of guys obviously, but it was really cool to finish that way,” Werenski said. “I think it was really huge for us. It was a fun hockey game in a fun atmosphere. It’s good to end on a high note.”

Jeff Rimer heads into retirement on a high note

For one last time, Jeff Rimer provided the soundtrack to a Blue Jackets telecast, concluding a 20-year run in the broadcast booth for Columbus. And the Blue Jackets made sure he headed into retirement with a victory.

Earlier in the day, Rimer was in the locker room to provide the team’s starting lineup.

“He said I expect a win. And nothing less. There’s no way you guys are going to let me retire on a loss,” Vincent said. “It was a great speech.”

There’s no question Rimer was part of the motivation for the Blue Jackets’ season finale. In the final period of Rimer’s broadcast, a montage commemorating his career played on the video board, with appearances from the likes of Michael Buble and Wayne Gretzky who provided messages of gratitude for his decades of service.

“He’s such a character. He’s such a good man. He’s been in the NHL for 47 years,” Vincent said. “And there’s a reason for it. You don’t last that long if you’re not a special man.”

And so ends the 2023-24 season. One that saw more than 40 losses for the second straight year. Yet the fanbase remains strong. The club’s average attendance of 17,016 over 41 games marks the highest average at Nationwide Arena in 20 years.

As the players get ready to clean out their lockers for an offseason that will see a new general manager take over, the fans can enjoy this win until the Blue Jackets get on the ice again.

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