Flames’ Huberdeau, Weegar happy to beat former team in ’emotional’ return to Florida

Adam Ruzicka netted a pair of goals and Rasmus Andersson scored the shootout winner as the Calgary Flames defeated the Florida Panthers 5-4.

SUNRISE, Fla – If there was ever a time for Jonathan Huberdeau to make his first major impact as a Calgary Flame, it was late Saturday afternoon in the barn he spent his first ten years in the league.

Sent out as the second Flame in a shootout the Florida Panthers led 1-0, he skated by longtime teammate Aleksander Barkov, who’d just been stopped by Jacob Markstrom.

No words were exchanged.

It was all business at that point.

The crowd that had welcomed him in such touching fashion during the warmup and a TV timeout, was booing.

“I didn’t like that part,” he later joked.

They didn’t like what followed, as Huberdeau silenced the crowd with a short side snipe that beat Spencer Knight blocker side to tie the shootout 1-1.

“I probably never shot in a shootout before, so I kind of knew Knighter thought I would probably deke,” said Huberdeau.

“So that’s why I took a shot to surprise him.”

It worked, marking an important moment in the Flames’ dramatic shootout win, clinched by four-straight Markstrom saves, and capped by Rasmus Andersson’s stunning deke as the tenth shooter.

“It was good, obviously, (to do it) here, and I wanted to win too,” said Huberdeau following his triumphant return to FLA Live Arena. 

“It was big, getting the goal in the shootout here. That was cool.”

On a night with as many twists as Huberdeau’s summer, the Flames left Florida with a 5-4 win that will be memorable for all three players involved in the blockbuster swap that saw Matthew Tkachuk traded for Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar

The evening opened with a stirring tribute by the fans in attendance for warmup, standing, cheering and waving placards in support of their longtime heroes as they remained as the last two Flames on the ice, circling and waving.

The cheers intensified after Huberdeau received a pass from Barkov, which he buried as part of a sequence they’d repeated many times as linemates.

“The warmup was special,” said Huberdeau.

“I didn’t expect to have that many jerseys out there and that was cool to see that. I’ve been here a long time and I think they gave me a great ovation, so that was cool.”

Weegar agreed, it was a night he’ll never forget. 

“It’s just so hard to describe it because it was just a weird feeling,” said Weegar of the welcome.

“It was emotional, obviously. You’re trying to stay engaged in the game the whole time. But the fans in warmup were awesome. They showed a lot of love to us, and it really meant a lot to me.” 

What meant more, insisted both, was the win.

“I’m happy we got the two points, that was the biggest thing for me and Johnny – I wanted to beat these guys really bad,” smiled Weegar.

“I was really happy to see him score. I think that one feels really good for him. 

“I feel like that’s a vintage Panther game, 5-4 in a shootout.

“We had lots of those games on the other side. I enjoyed it.”

The man who seemed to be having the most fun until the shootout was Tkachuk, who had a brilliant setup on a Sam Reinhart snipe midway through the see-saw battle, before scoring the game-tying goal with six minutes left with the type of net-front redirection he’s finished dozens of times.

“It felt good to get it to overtime,” said Tkachuk, whose two-point effort has him amongst league-leaders with 24 points.

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“It felt like we were dominating them, yet it was somehow 4-3. They came out and played solid, didn’t give us much, but then we took over in the second period. It seemed like they were hanging on a little in the third. But they had some looks as well.”

As part of his third multi-point game in the last four outings, Adam Ružička opened the scoring to help the Flames grab a 2-0 lead, only to have the hosts battle back to tie it three times.

Ružička finished with two goals and a helper, for his first career three-point game. Despite being a healthy scratch 10 of the first 11 games, he now has eight points in seven outings, tying him with Huberdeau. 

Although both teams fired 35 shots on goal, it was Jacob Markstrom who stood out as the better netminder, especially during the shootout when he made several sprawling saves, setting the table for Andersson to finish a nifty deke he said he perfected while playing in the AHL.

“Honestly, that’s a move I’ve done for quite some time,” said Andersson, who got Knight to bite on a backhand deke before going forehand and out-waiting the sprawling goalie and finishing it high.

“I took a few shootouts in Stockton and it worked back then, but it was a long time. It was nice to see it go in and it’s just nice to get a win. It was a much-needed one. 

“Obviously, there’s a lot of emotions for a lot of guys out there today, but it was really nice to get a win.” 

Huberdeau and Weegar both mentioned how happy they were to get this game over with, as it had generated plenty of attention in the days leading up.

“Yeah, turn the page and now it’s, ‘focus on the year’ and everything else,” said Huberdeau, who will take a backseat to the hype Nov. 29 when Tkachuk makes his return to Calgary.

“Quite honest, way too much talk about it,” added Sutter when asked how much this game meant to the former Panthers.

“Guys get traded, guys sign. What’s the big deal?

“Good players move around, that’s what they do. I’ve said it before, if somebody gives you $75 million we’re all going.”

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