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CBJ, Jet's Pizza celebrate First Responders Night with Columbus police

Pizza party, meeting with Zach Werenski honored the work done by Substation 5

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

If this whole hockey thing didn't work out, Zach Werenski probably would have gone into the family business. 

Of course, the Blue Jackets star is one of the top defensemen in the NHL, so at the end of the day hockey turned out to be the right choice. But had his pro sports dreams not come true, Werenski says law enforcement might have been the road he chose given the fact his father is a police officer, among other ties. 

At least that's what he told a gathering of officers from the Columbus Division of Police on Wednesday. The officers of Police Substation 5 in Linden got together ahead of tonight's Blue Jackets First Responders Night game to chat with the CBJ defenseman via Zoom and enjoy a dinner of Jet's Pizza -- plus a visit from Stinger -- to mark the annual celebration. 

"Yeah, 100 percent," Werenski said when asked if he might have been a cop in a different world. "My uncle was the chief of police where I grew up for a number of years. My dad followed in his footsteps. My dad being my biggest role model, seeing what he does, how he works, I think definitely if I didn't play hockey and didn't have this opportunity, law enforcement is honestly probably where I would have ended up. I think it's one of the greatest jobs in the world." 

It was easy for Werenski to fit in with the group during the nearly 20-minute chat given the fact he knows the world of law enforcement well. His father, Ken, has lived it Zach's entire life, and it's fair to say Werenski has a real appreciation for what it takes for officers to do their jobs and do them well. 

"You guys are doing great work for the community," Werenski said. "I want to say thank you. My father has been in law enforcement for over 30 years, and I know the sacrifices you guys make. It's definitely not an easy job, but it's one that I know most people and I know the Blue Jackets are very appreciative of.  

"For me personally, this is my sixth season now in Columbus and I'm here for six more after it. To hear the things you guys are doing in the community, it makes me feel really good knowing you guys are here helping the community and making it a better place." 

Substation 5 also has done its part to not only keep the peace in Linden but also reach out to the community in recent years. The precinct is involved heavily with The Starfish Assignment, a 501(c)(3) charity that works with law enforcement officers who identify needs in the communities they serve. 

Officer Pete Casuccio of the precinct is an executive vice president with Starfish Assignment and works on its board, and he also helped establish the Cops & Barbers program with his barber and friend Rob Cayson which helps connect inner-city youth with police officers and offers free haircuts and back-to-school supplies. 

In 2020, officers also worked with Starfish to help provide Thanksgiving meals to every family in Rosewind Apartments as part of a program called Cops & Gobblers, and the precinct also has taken part in other such events as block parties, coat drives, Books & Badges readings, Blessing Bags events, and Bikes Assignments.  

During the meeting with Werenski, Lieutenant Justin Coleman tipped his cap to the officers at Substation 5 for the work they've done in the community over recent months.  

"They're the ones that allow us to do the partnerships, they're the ones that are out in the community making those connections and coming up with those unique ideas," Coleman said, "things like Cops & Gobblers and Books & Badges and some of the other events we've been able to take from an idea to actual life out in the community and seeing the impact that we've had from there. Thank you for recognizing these officers." 

The event also included plenty of hockey talk, including Werenski telling stories about his father's hockey skills -- or lack thereof -- as well as his background in the game and why he's chosen to wear the No. 8. Werenski also said he'd love to meet the officers in person at a later date and perhaps do a ride along with the group when the timing is right. 

It was a natural conversation because hockey is a passion for many of the officers, including Commander Blake Griffith, who is a longtime member of the Columbus Division of Police hockey team and is helping organize a game in March that will include Columbus police officers and firefighters as well as former Blue Jackets, Chill and Ohio State players. 

"He's one of the top defensemen, I think, in the NHL," Griffith said of Werenski. "He plays a great game. The fact that his father has a law enforcement background, he knows exactly the schedules and things that all our boots on the ground have to go through out there. It was great for him to take the time to say hi to all these guys who are doing a great job for us." 

In addition to donating the pizza for the officers on Wednesday night, Jet's is providing CBJ tickets to the first responders, who are giving them to families they work with in Columbus Recreation and Parks to attend tonight's game. 

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