Matthew Tkachuk has made it clear he has shifted his focus to the Florida Panthers from the moment he arrived — and it will be no different when he makes his official return to the Calgary Saddledome to face his former team Tuesday night.
”It’s not going to sound great,’’ Tkachuk said, “but I already closed the book on Calgary.
”I have to move on. I had some great memories there but it would be unfair to my teammates, the fans and this whole organization that put a lot into this trade getting me and it’d be unfair to me to not close that book yet.”
Tkachuk already faced his former teammates on Nov. 19 when Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar were celebrated by fans in Sunrise.
The reception for Tkachuk may not be as warm tonight despite his making a name for himself in Calgary, scoring 152 goals and 382 points over six seasons.
Unlike Huberdeau and Weegar, Tkachuk told the Flames he would not be signing a long-term deal with them and they needed to trade him as soon as possible.
The Panthers jumped all over it.
”Lots of guys have been traded before so I’m sure they all say the same thing. It’s probably weird at the start,” Tkachuk said before the Flames came to town.
”Calgary is the only team I played on. I was there for six years so it was a pretty decent amount of time that it will be weird for the first shift or just seeing the guys, but after that it’s back to business.”
Whatever weirdness there was in Sunrise, Tkachuk can expect something similar.
Huberdeau and Weegar had their weird homecoming — and had to follow teammates to the visitors’ room — and now it is Tkachuk’s time.
“It will feel the same way as when I played them for the first time [in Florida],” Tkachuk said.
”For the first little bit of the game, it will be weird but after that, it’s pretty normal.”
Tkachuk says it is great the Panthers are rolling in and out of town.
After losing in Edmonton on Monday night — where he was soundly booed in warmups and after scoring the opening goal — Tkachuk and the Panthers will not skate or practice in Calgary on Tuesday.
It’s the game and get out.
”We are there on a back-to-back, which I honestly prefer,” Tkachuk said.
”I would rather just be in and out of there — especially for the first time — just to avoid distractions and stuff going on outside of the game. But hopefully in one or two years, we get ourselves a few days there so I can show some of my new teammates my old spots.”
Tkachuk had a lot of time to put some closure on his Flames tenure as he was the one who asked to be traded.
He gave the Flames a list of teams — one the Panthers were at the top of — and knew a trade was coming eventually.
The same could not have been said about the star players who went to Calgary.
“It was definitely a wild week, but after it happened, everything calmed down. I was able to feel right at home and it has been unbelievable how quick I have been able to fit in with his group,” Tkachuk said.
”I did come fairly early into the year, which helped. The guys have been amazing, teammates, coaches and literally everybody have made me feel right at home since the beginning and I think that has translated to me feeling better than I would have on the ice.”
That good feeling on the ice has translated into a team-leading 29 points — a figure that ranks seventh in the NHL and first among players who switched teams over the offseason.
“He is a brilliantly talented man,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”His hands are elite. They are not what you typically see by a highly-skilled guy. They are usually perimeter guys or it’s an awful lot of passing that you enjoy or a blistering spot down the wing. He has one of those unusual sets of hands within two or three feet of the net and gets his stick on everything.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT CALGARY FLAMES
- When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.
- Where: The Saddledome; Calgary, Alberta
- TV: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Calgary leads 1-0): Flames 5, Panthers 4 SO (Nov. 19)
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Calgary leads 23-11-3, 3 ties