COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Zach Werenski has been with the Blue Jackets for seven years since being drafted No. 8 overall from the University of Michigan in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Werenski recently sat down with NBC4 to discuss his charitable work with the Salvation Army. During the conversation, he was asked why Columbus feels like home and mentioned a young CBJ fan who he’s seen grow up over the last seven years during his pre-game warmups. That young fan is 16-year-old Deven Patel, a sophomore at St. Francis DeSales High School. On Saturday, Werenski and Patel met for the first time without a piece of glass separating them.
“Meeting him now I can’t even describe it,” Patel said. “It’s just a dream come true.”
Seven years ago, nine-year-old Deven got the attention of 19-year-old Werenski by proudly wearing a Michigan hockey jersey.
“I watched you here against Ohio State when you were in college and then when you came here to the Jackets you were my favorite player and so I started wearing this,” Deven told Zach.
During his first season in Columbus, Werenski incorporated a new routine into his pre-game warmup—lofting pucks into the glass trying to hit it between Deven’s cusped hands.
“That thing in warmups I do when I shoot the puck at the glass it’s just something small but you see the same people consistently and kind of feel that connection,” Werenski told Deven.
“He still goes out to make the target on the wall, but he stands back and all the little kids are now in front of him doing the target, which is pretty cool because he used to be the little kid,” Deven’s father Sandip said.
The Patel family is just one example of what the Jackets mean to fans in central Ohio. Despite the down year, the Blue Jackets are on pace to post the highest attendance for games played at Nationwide Arena since the 2003-04 season.
“It doesn’t go unnoticed. We talk about it in the [locker] room and we talk about how appreciative we are of our fans and how they deserve a winner here,” Werenski said.
“You just never really know the impact we have, or the kids have, on the players,” Deven’s mother Tracy said. “It’s nice to see that opposite side of that cause they really have a huge impact on us.”