It was a season of firsts for the Blue Jackets, none more important than when Robert Kron won the first-ever faceoff in Blue Jackets history from Alexei Zhamnov of the Chicago Blackhawks.
That was the moment NHL hockey in Columbus became real, with Oct. 7, 2000, serving as the culmination of a decade’s worth of dreaming and years of planning.
Finally, four years after the first application was submitted to the NHL for a team, three years after the city had been awarded an expansion franchise and after two years of construction on a downtown arena, the first game in Blue Jackets history signaled a new era for the city.
To this day, the names on the inaugural team still remain etched in Blue Jackets lore, from top scorers Geoff Sanderson Jersey and Espen Knutsen to tough guys Tyler Wright Jersey and Kevin Dineen to the veteran wiles of captain Lyle Odelein Jersey and goalie Ron Tugnutt. Assembled by general manager Doug MacLean through trades, free agency and the expansion draft, they came from all over the NHL and the world to become the first to put on the union blue sweater.
And they thrilled raucous crowds that flocked to Nationwide Arena, including the one on that opening night that could hardly believe its eyes when the Blue Jackets opened a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of franchise history. Bruce Gardiner scored the historic first-ever goal off assists from Krzysztof Oliwa and Kevyn Adams 7:34 into the game, and David Vyborny Jersey and Steve Heinze followed in the next two minutes to nearly blow the freshly completed roof off the building.
But fans would come to know the fickle nature of the sport of hockey, and quickly. Chicago tied the score in the second period and went on to ruin opening night with a 5-3 victory, but the Blue Jackets would soon know the taste of triumph.
The first-ever Blue Jackets win came Oct. 12, as Columbus earned a 3-2 win at Calgary thanks to Adams’ tiebreaking third-period goal. A 3-1 win over Washington on Oct. 27 earned the first home win, and the Blue Jackets were off and running.
Columbus would go on to finish 28-39-9-6 under head coach Dave King, tying the Blackhawks with 71 points for fourth place in the Central Division, but the city’s love affair with hockey was already evident.
There were plenty of highlights from the season, which ended with a bang when the Blackhawks returned to town and Wright scored in overtime to make the Blue Jackets walkoff winners at the end of their first campaign.
Milestones were aplenty, from Tugnutt’s first-ever CBJ shutout in a Dec. 18 win over Montreal to Sanderson’s inaugural hat trick as he tallied all three goals in a Feb. 10 victory against Nashville. On March 24, Knutsen became the first Blue Jacket to earn five points in a game as Columbus earned a thrilling 6-4 victory over Calgary.
On the season, Sanderson led the way with 30 goals and 56 points, with Knutsen’s 42 assists part of his 53-point NHL debut campaign. Heinze added 22 goals and 42 points, while Wright, Vyborny, Serge Aubin and Jamie Heward each finished with double-digit goals. Tugnutt won 22 games, a record for an expansion team goalie, and a 2.44 goals-against average even though his spoof ‘Vote Tugnutt’ presidential campaign didn’t quite get off the ground.
All in all, the groundwork was set for what was to come at the corner of Front and Nationwide.