Flames Fans Both Celebrate and Boo Tkachuk in Return to Calgary
After a video tribute honouring Matthew Tkachuk’s time with the Calgary Flames, the Saddledome crowd turned on their former favourite in big win over Panthers.
Matthew Tkachuk was used to being jeered in other rinks as he established his reputation with the Calgary Flames as one of the NHL’s most irritating players.
His safe place was always the Saddledome.
That all changed in his return to Calgary on Tuesday night.
After a summer that saw the 24-year-old orchestrate his exit as a restricted free agent, Flames fans collectively decided he would get the full boo experience while wearing his Florida Panthers jersey in the city he called home for his first six seasons.
It almost seemed tongue-in-cheek. The fact Tkachuk made it clear to GM Brad Treliving that he had no intention of signing a long-term deal with the Calgary Flames allowed the franchise to pivot and land both Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in the massive NHL trade.
But the decision had been made. And the trickle of boos grew from a smaller section of the Saddledome crowd into a united roar – every single time Tkachuk touched the puck in the 6-2 Flames victory.
“I don’t know, passionate fans here,” Tkachuk said in the visitors’ locker-room, a place he is going to have to get familiar with now.
He said he wasn’t surprised, but his body language and discomfort suggested maybe he was.
“Not really,” he said. “I’ve basically seen them do it to multiple guys that used to play here throughout the league.”
What made it less hostile than, say, the reception given by Flames fans to New York Rangers defenceman Adam Fox, or what we’re expecting to hear for Johnny Gaudreau, who chose to leave the Flames to join the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency this summer, is how lighthearted it seemed.
It was in total contrast to the outpouring of gratitude and cheering the fans gave him during a TV timeout when his tribute video played on the big screen.
Tkachuk took a quick twirl and saluted the crowd in appreciation for the standing ovation.
“It was obviously nice to see that video,” Tkachuk said. “It’s special, obviously. I have lots of fond memories here. It was pretty cool.
“They kept it going for a while, too. It wasn’t just a couple seconds thing and it was over. Nice of them.”
The switch flipped when the puck dropped again and the boos remained strong all night long.
Tkachuk, however, was fairly quiet.
Blanked offensively, the talented Tkachuk watched helplessly as giant Nikita Zadorov dropped when contacted by Tkachuk’s mild cross-check along the boards, drawing a penalty.
He led all Panthers forwards in ice time and shots, but was a minus-two on one of the worst nights of his time with the Panthers so far.
But he said the fan treatment didn’t spoil his return.
“It’s always going to be nice coming back here and playing for the rest of my career.”