OTTAWA – Dany Heatley expected Senators fans to let him have it in his return to Ottawa, and he wasn’t disappointed.
The San Jose forward was booed and serenaded with chants of “Heatley sucks” the moment he stepped on the ice at Scotiabank Place on Thursday for the pre-game warm-up before the Sharks’ eventual 4-0 win over the Senators.
As the seats filled for the start of the game, those chants continued into the first period along with a chorus of boos every time No. 15 touched the puck.
When Ottawa forward Jason Spezza knocked Heatley to the ice early on, it drew a loud cheer from the crowd.
There was some variation to the crowd’s displeasure as chants of “traitor” were thrown into the mix. They also started to boo whenever Heatley, who had an assist on the Sharks first goal, came near the puck.
Heatley, however, still isn’t shedding much light on his reasons for wanting out of Ottawa in the first place.
He insisted again Thursday that his departure was about nothing more than wanting a change after sensing that his role diminished during his four seasons with the team.
That explanation has never sat well with Ottawa fans, who have made him a target for their scorn ever since.
“I felt it was best to move on,” Heatley said after the morning skate for the evening encounter with the Senators. “It’s not like I woke up one day and decided to do it. I felt that way for a long time my last season here. I did talk a lot with the people in charge here at that time and at the end I didn’t think it could be resolved.”
While Heatley says he has no regrets about the Sept. 12, 2009 deal that sent him to San Jose for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second-round pick, he admits he no longer listens to the rumours and innuendo about the matter.
Many in Ottawa still believe that Heatley’s reasons for requesting the trade run much deeper than just needing a change.
“Those are fans and some of the media that chose to be that way,” he said. “The media has a job to do; fans can say what they want. Some media do their job and some are a little overboard, but that’s the way it is.”
He adds that he’s been through this before and that once the game starts, all the external issues no longer matter.
“It is what it is,” said Heatley. “I’m happy to see a lot of people in this town. I met a lot of great people during my time here and the people that cast me as a villain that’s fine.
“I’m just going to go out there and play hockey.”
The Sharks are treating the contest as business as usual as well.
“Nothing really changes for us, it’s just a normal game,” said Sharks captain Joe Thornton. “We just want to get the two points out of here and go to Montreal.”
Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle, an Ottawa native, says the hostility surrounding the game could play in their favour.
“It’s going to exciting,” said Boyle. “It’s fun to play at home, but it’s also fun to play in a hostile environment sometimes it’s a fun way to get together and bond together as a team.”