Del Bel Belluz first

When the adrenaline stops and Luca Del Bel Belluz has the chance to look back, he probably won’t quite believe the six-plus-hour stretch of his life from Tuesday.

At 1 p.m., he was watching film with his coaches with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters, getting ready for a big weekend of hockey with the playoffs near, when head coach Trent Vogelhuber got the call Del Bel Belluz was needed in Columbus for his NHL debut.

A quick run to his apartment later, Del Bel Belluz began the 140-mile drive down Interstate 71. By 4 p.m., he’d reached his hotel in downtown Columbus, and a few minutes later, he was pulling into the parking lot at Nationwide Arena.

As he was walking into the venue, he came upon two members of the Carolina Hurricanes, with Evgeny Kuznetsov grabbing his sticks and Dmitri Orlov holding the door so Del Bel Belluz could carry his hockey bag into the arena.

It all led up to just 1:25 into his NHL debut, when ... Del Bel Belluz was sent to the penalty box. He had skated for just seven seconds of ice time when the Blue Jackets were called for too many men on the ice, with Del Bel Belluz serving the penalty.

It wasn’t exactly an auspicious start, but it did lead to what happened next. Just 12 seconds after he came out of the box and 3:37 into his NHL debut – with his parents, Angelo and Susy, and sister, Ella, just arriving after a speedy drive from his Toronto-area home – Del Bel Belluz made a bit of CBJ history.

After coming down the left wing with speed off a pass from Mikael Pyyhtia, the 2022 second-round draft pick reached the top of the circle and let go a wrist shot that beat goalie Spencer Martin, making him the quickest player in Blue Jackets annals to score his first career goal.

CAR@CBJ: Del Bel Belluz scores goal against Spencer Martin

“It’s definitely gonna be one to remember,” Del Bel Belluz said after the season-capping 6-3 win for the Blue Jackets. “It was just a whirlwind of a day, not expecting to get called up, just going to practice in the morning, and just like that, it switches and you’re on your way to Columbus and playing in my first NHL game. It’s something you dream of as a kid and something I’ll remember.”

In all, 133 players – 119 of them skaters – have made their NHL debuts with Columbus, and just eight of them have scored in their first career games. It has become a bit more common the past three years, though, as Trey Fix-Wolansky did it in the 2021-22 season and Marcus Bjork tallied in his debut a season ago.

But for many of Del Bel Belluz’s teammates, it wasn’t a huge surprise. While he has just nine goals among his 30 points in 55 games this year as a rookie with the Monsters, the 20-year-old center has always been a goal scorer, including a total of 40 in 66 combined games a season ago with Mississauga and Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League.

“He’s a sniper,” fellow rookie James Malatesta said. “He has silky mitts. You don’t want to give him that much time. He’s been really good this year, so when I saw him going down that wing, I knew he was gonna pull it in and get a good shot off. I’m just so happy for him.”

As for his family, the trip down from Canada thankfully didn’t include any speeding tickets, but the earliness of the tally did leave the Del Bel Belluzes just a few minutes shy of actually seeing Luca score his first NHL goal. His parents and sister were just arriving at Nationwide Arena when the goal went in, something head coach Pascal Vincent joked would be a good story in 20 years.

But for Del Bel Belluz’s father, seeing Luca on the ice in his NHL debut more than made up for missing the tally.

“It’s a dream come true for him but also for us, right?” he told Bally Sports. “It takes a village. It’s just been unbelievable. The whole organization has been great with us, so just so grateful and thankful.”

Del Bel Belluz – along with Malatesta, Pyyhtia and the whole passel of Monsters who have been called upon late this season to fill the CBJ lineup – now returns to Cleveland for what the organization hopes will be a long playoff run at the minor league level.

He’ll have the memory of a successful NHL debut in his back pocket, not to mention a puck he’ll save for the rest of his life.

“It was a great feeling,” he said of the goal. “Good to get that one early. There was a lot of adrenaline pumping through. Probably one of my hardest shots there. Honestly, it’s so surreal. I didn’t expect it to go in. I was just trying to get it on net and I beat him, so it’s just awesome.”

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