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Jonathan Huberdeau Says Florida Panthers Return will be Emotional

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Jonathan Huberdeau, the Florida Panthers’ all-time scoring leader, returns to Sunrise on Saturday for the first time since being traded to the Calgary Flames in July. — Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

CORAL SPRINGS — Jonathan Huberdeau admits to reacting emotionally upon learning the news that the Florida Panthers, the team he grew up playing for and became a star with, had traded him.

The news originally came from his agent Allen Walsh that Friday night on July 22 with general manager Bill Zito following up with the official word a little later.

Huberdeau, by all accounts, did not take the news all that well.

“It was tough,” he said on Friday. “When you get that call, you don’t expect it. When the GM is calling you late at night, I knew it was not an extension. It was part of the business and that’s what it is. I was emotional when I got the news but coming back here is kind of closing everything.”

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While it took a little bit of time for the shock to wear off, Huberdeau eventually met with Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving for dinner in Montreal and the two sides worked out a long-term contract Huberdeau had hoped he would sign with the Panthers.

On Saturday afternoon, Huberdeau will play his former Florida teammates when he plays at FLA Live Arena as a visitor for the first time in his career.

Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, said he is not sure what kind of reaction he will get from the home crowd.

Spoiler alert: It will be extremely positive.

”I might get booed,” Huberdeau said with a little smile. “I know I gave everything I had here. We’ll see. That was 10 years of my life, my career and this was home to me. Hopefully I get a good ovation.”

it will be extremely positive) and admits he does not know what kind of emotions he will feel when the time comes later this afternoon.

But based on listening to both he and MacKenzie Weegar speak during their first practice at the IceDen since the trade, it appears that they are not over the trade just yet.

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Perhaps getting this game over with will do the trick.

“It has been OK, but tomorrow will probably be more emotional,” Huberdeau said after practice Friday. “I think tomorrow is going to get to me a bit. Even here, being on the other side … that’s part of it. But more tomorrow at the game rink, you’ll feel it a little more. You look forward to it. In the summer, after the trade, I circled that date. I want to do well and want us to win.”

While Huberdeau and Weegar will be dealing with the emotions — and figuring out where the visitors’ locker room at the arena is — Matthew Tkachuk will be going through some things as well.

Tkachuk, after all, will be facing the Flames as an opponent for the first time in his career as well.

Like Huberdeau and Weegar, he was expected to hang out and have dinner with former teammates on Friday night and then play them a few hours later.

At least the two former Panthers get to rip this BandAid off on Saturday.

Tkachuk has to return to Calgary, after all, later this month and go through this all over again.

“It is early in the year but this game still means a lot for our team and for myself,” he said. “I would be lying to you if I said this was just another game. It is different facing your former team. At the end of the day, it is a game our team has to win. … It is extra-special for me knowing all of those guys over there and playing against them will be kind of weird.”

Although Tkachuk has gotten off to a terrific start with his new team with 6 goals and a team-high 22 points in 15 games, both Huberdeau and Weegar have been slow to get going offensively.

Huberdeau set a Florida franchise record last season with 115 points, but has just two goals and eight points through his first 13 games in this one.

The Flames recently ended a seven-game losing streak and are currently just outside a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Panthers have lost two of their past three home games and are also not currently holding a playoff spot.

Both teams would really like to get this done with — and get it done with two points.

”This was a great chapter of my life, I was here for 10 years and have great memories,’’ Huberdeau said. “We had ups-and-downs and that was cool. But trades happen and it is a business. It is time to turn the page.”

Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said that it is understandable that Huberdeau may be off to a slow start due to the trade — and explained why Tkachuk’s situation was different.

Tkachuk, after all, asked out of Calgary and set this whole trade in motion. Huberdeau and Weegar, on the other hand, were completely caught off guard with it and perhaps needed a lot more time to get used to everything.

“Look at Jonathan. That was an emotional time for him,’’ Sutter said. “I think that’s why he had a hard time early. He wasn’t expecting to be traded out of Florida and I think that was hard for him. Now his game is where you want it to be but that takes time.

“As for Matthew, he made that choice and was ready for it. He jumped right in. Good players do that.”

Huberdeau agreed with that assessment, saying “Matthew wanted to get out of there. We kind of got surprised by it. There was a bit of an adjustment. I think this game is important. Obviously, I want to play well against them and kind of show them what I can do. After that, well, turn the page and go from there.”

One player Huberdeau would really like to see on the ice Saturday is his longtime linemate Sasha Barkov.

Barkov missed Thursday’s loss to the Dallas Stars with illness and did not practice on Friday but coach Paul Maurice said he was feeling much better and the expectation is he will play on Saturday.

Huberdeau and Barkov had one hell of a run together with the Panthers with the duo either first or second in the team record book.

“I texted him and hope he is going to play,” Huberdeau said. “Barky and I have been together so many years and have great chemistry but now we have to play against each other. It’s going to be tough.

“Maybe he will pass it to me.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

CALGARY FLAMES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TV: Bally Sports Florida; NHL Network
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Split 1-1
  • All-time regular season series: Calgary leads 22-11-3, 3 ties

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