For six seasons, Matthew Tkachuk wore the fiery Flames logo on his chest. But, on the eve of his return to Calgary, he kept the rhetoric cool.
“Of course I thought about it,” Tkachuk said after skating the Florida Panthers late Monday morning in Edmonton before a game against the Oilers.
“But, until we get to tomorrow, I probably won’t be able to give you a good answer to that.”
The NHL scheduler has done his best to minimize the drama of a Tkachuk return. The Panthers play two Alberta road games in two nights. First in Edmonton, where Tkachuk was Public Enemy no. 1 was. Then the Panthers are in the Saddledome on Tuesday, a place where Tkachuk has been a hero.
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There are no off days to help build the hype, and very few opportunities for media to get the cameras and recorders in front of the American force going forward.
“It’s just another road trip right now,” Tkachuk said when asked about what he expects in Calgary. “This one (against Edmonton) doesn’t feel that special, but I’m sure tomorrow will.
“We have the game tonight, and our team is super focused on this one, and not letting the emotion get past this one. But tomorrow will be special for me, for sure.”
Tkachuk, who had a 104-point season for the Flames in 2021-22 and totaled 382 points for Calgary over six campaigns, was traded to Florida in the offseason for forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar hand over.
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It was the kind of blockbuster trade you rarely see anymore in the NHL, with so many teams up against the cap. But it was part of Flames general manager Brad Treliving’s plan to rebuild his team on the fly after star forward Johnny Gaudreau made the decision to sign as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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Fast forward to this season, and Tkachuk has 27 points in 18 games for the Panthers, while Huberdeau has just 10 in 18 games for the Flames.
While Tkachuk wouldn’t say anything that could be used as bulletin board material, his coach, Paul Maurice, had no problem raving about what Tkachuk brings to the Panthers.
“I don’t know if surprised is the right word,” said Maurice, who coached the Jets before taking the reins with the Panthers this season. “But in Winnipeg we would have seen a fair amount of him, and I didn’t fully understand his hand skills.
“He’s got an incredible ability to make breaks from all over his body, at different levels, and so many of the set-piece plays, what’s unusual for him is that he’s goal-line it to the back of the net can do
“To see it in practice, to see how many herds he knocks down and no one understands how he did it.”
Maurice said Tkachuk is a model team player, painting a different picture than the agitator who earned three suspensions and was the central figure in a famous brawl between the Flames and Oilers in February 2021.
“The way he treats people off the ice is unbelievable,” Maurice said. “The trainers, the bus drivers, all the support staff, it’s really impressive to watch.
“He is a very, very respectable young man who has achieved a great deal of success.”
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Maurice said the team is looking forward to how fans in Alberta — the ones who loathed and loved Tkachuk — will react.
“I think our guys might enjoy it a little bit,” he said.
“They’ll have some fun with it, and it won’t be the first time Matthew’s been booed in Alberta, so he’ll be fine with it.”
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Asked if the boos will resonate when Oilers fans see Tkachuk in a Panthers jersey, he replied, “I have no idea.”
“It’s not my decision,” he said. “That’s what everyone else here thinks, you might have to ask them.”
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