Tkachuk’s return to Calgary gives Flames fans chance to both thank him and boo him

Ryan Leslie sits down with Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk ahead of his huge Calgary return game, to discuss a few of his favourite memories from his tenure with the Flames organization, and what he loves most about his new life in Florida.

CALGARY — The ovation will be loud, the moment will be memorable.

Matthew Tkachuk’s return to Calgary on Tuesday night is bound to open with all the feels one should expect from a reunion as anticipated as this.  

Whether it’s a welcome during warmup or the official salute following first period video recognition, Calgary hockey fans will undoubtedly embrace the chance to thank him for six years of excellence and entertainment.

As they should.

However, don’t be surprised if, by night’s end, the Saddledome sees the master of menace treated like he is in 30 other rinks: with repugnance, derision and plenty of boos.

It’s Tkachuk’s gift to the game — an ability to agitate and infuriate, while at the same time able to dazzle and amaze.

Hey, if the appreciation for Jonathan Huberdeau’s decade of mild-mannered brilliance in Florida can be punctuated by boos as he readied for last week’s shootout in Sunrise, surely ol’ Chucky’s return can play host to a similar turnabout.

And he knows it.

“Yeah, they’re smart hockey fans, passionate — they want their team to win and I want my team to win,” said Tkachuk on Sunday, when asked if he could foresee the tide turning quickly on him. 

“Obviously I loved playing in front of them, and am super grateful for them, but I just know at the end of the day they want their team to win.”

They also want to give thanks to a man whose six years in town as the team’s sixth overall pick were as colourful, productive, controversial and emotional as any player to roll through town in the last three decades.

Much like his father, he emerged as one of the league’s top offensive threats, while also leading with a rugged, agitating style that would have made him captain had he decided to stay.

He chose not to.

But by doing so in a manner that gave the club ample time to pry four significant assets from Florida in trade, surely the bulk of Flames fans appreciate that some breakups can be done respectfully.

“I think they respect that,” said Tkachuk of the fans and his teammates. 

“Obviously it was probably a tough summer for them, maybe not what they were expecting or anything. But seeing some of the guys down in Florida it has been nothing but positive. It was great to see them again. There’s been no hard feelings whatsoever.”

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Unlike a handful of his teammates, who went to visit his waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale the night before their last meeting, it will certainly be easier for fans to forget all that Tkachuk did as a Flame.

And while his brilliance and style of play will undoubtedly turn the relationship sour at some point soon, he’s certainly hoping the reception Tuesday will be positive.

“I think it will be good,” said Tkachuk, 24, who has picked up where he left off in Calgary, with nine goals and 27 points to sit amongst league leaders.  

“I’m just excited to be back and play for the fans. 

“They know I gave everything for them, and worked as hard as I possibly could on and off the ice for them. 

“I just tried to leave an impact in the city and make an impact on the team, so hopefully it’s well received.

“I have nothing but great things to say about all of them. 

“So thankful for all my years with them and really, really, really enjoyed playing in front of them. They were unbelievable.   

“But at the end of the day whatever happens, happens.

“It’s not going to be in my control, so I’m just looking forward to it.” 

Nine days ago it was Tkachuk who tied the game against his former team in the third period, capping a two-point effort that also included a dramatic shootout attempt that saw him wind up from the hash marks with a slapper that found Jacob Markstrom’s glove.

“Obviously I would have wanted to score that, more than anything,” he admitted.

“Just something I’ve done before on Marky in practice, but he made a good save and they got the win.

“Everybody knew what it meant for the new players and both sides, and as the game went on it got better and was pretty intense. The emotion was good and the fans were really into it. It was a loud rink, awesome environment to play in.

“I wish we got the win, but hopefully we’ll get them back Tuesday.”

The focus for both squads will be the two points, especially the Flames who’ll kick off a five-game homestand losers of three in a row.

For the fans, the focus will be No. 19.

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As Huberdeau said after the game in Florida, “now I can turn the page.”

Tkachuk insisted he’d already done that, as he was the one who informed the team he wouldn’t re-sign next year, prompting the trade that landed MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt, Huberdeau and a first rounder for Calgary.   

Yet, he admits the final rite of passage includes the emotions and awkwardness that come with returning to a town he loved, and which loved him back.

“Being at the rink, I don’t think I’ve ever been on the other side or come in a different way,” he said, listing what will make this so different from the recent matchup in his new home.

“I obviously had my pre-game routines, my pre-game meal.

“I won’t be going back to where I lived, I’ll be staying at the hotel.

“It’s off a back-to-back, so it will come at me quick, which is probably a good thing I’d say. Not much time to think about it. You’re in and out of there.”

His Panthers play in Florida Monday night, and this time around he’s okay with the quick turnaround.

“I think it’s a good thing for myself and my team, because people are talking non-stop about it, and because it’ll all happen so fast it won’t be as hard to deal with all the distractions,” said Tkachuk, who won’t have any family flying in for the homecoming of sorts.

“Obviously down the road I hope we don’t play back-to-back every time. 

“I would love to have a few days there in the future because it’s a great place. 

“I definitely want to show my new teammates my spots, and I’d love to have my family coming in too.

“This time it’s all business.”

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