OTTAWA – Jason Spezza knows first-hand how hostile the fans at Scotiabank Place can be, and the Senators forward doesn’t expect them to go easy on Dany Heatley when he makes his return to Ottawa on Thursday.
It’s been 14 months since Heatley left the Senators for the San Jose Sharks after demanding a trade at the end of the 2008-09 season.
While Heatley was revered by fans when he helped lead the Senators to the Stanley Cup final in 2007, Ottawa supporters were disgusted by his request for a trade, especially considering he had just finished the first season of a six-year, US$45-million contract extension.
There’s no doubt he’ll be a target for fans Thursday as he takes the Scotiabank Place ice in a Sharks uniform for the first time since he was traded on Sept. 12, 2009.
Spezza, who remains friends with Heatley, is hoping the Senators might benefit from the anti-Heatley sentiment.
“I’m sure it’s not going to be pleasant (for) anyone that goes back to a situation like he’s coming back to,” said Spezza, who became the lightning rod for fans’ frustrations during the team’s first-round playoff elimination last season. “But maybe we can get a jolt from the crowd.”
Fans weren’t the only ones disillusioned by the talented winger. Teammates were left wondering how Heatley could turn his back on them so easily. While they never really got the answers they were looking for, they have moved on.
Senators coach Cory Clouston, who was believed to be the main reason for Heatley’s trade request, said he hasn’t given much thought to the situation.
“The only time I think about it is when it’s brought up by media,” Clouston said Wednesday at practice. “To me our whole focus, especially mine, is getting our team ready to play the way they need to be. We’re going to address it like any other game. He’s a top player, he’s scoring, he’s on a hot streak right now and we need to take his time and space away, but other than that we’re not going to do anything but play our game.”
The Senators, who have lost six of their last eight, can’t afford to get caught up in any Heatley drama.
“It’s a big game, but apart from (Heatley) we have to be much better and focused,” veteran centre Mike Fisher said. “I think we’ve had a couple of good days to re-energize and focus on what we need to do and obviously the fans will be charged up and we’ll be ready.”
Fisher was one of the more vocal players following Heatley’s request but he says it’s all in the past now.
“We’ve moved forward and we’re not going to dwell on anything that’s happened,” said Fisher. “He’s in a spot where he wants to be now. It’s got to be business as usual.”
Fisher added that there are no hard feelings and he wishes Heatley nothing but the best.
Last week, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said wouldn’t give Heatley the time of day, but most Senators players said they would have no problem exchanging pleasantries with their former teammate. General manager Bryan Murray agreed.
“I had a good talk with Dany after we made the deal,” said Murray. “I don’t know that he’ll extend his hand or I will, but I certainly would talk to him if he wants.”
Chris Phillips said he fully understands the fans’need to boo Heatley.
“I can definitely see the frustration when you have a calibre guy like that to watch every night . . . and then he wanted out so I can see (the fans) disappointment,” said Phillips. “It’s tough the way it ended, but there aren’t too many relationships that do end on a good note, but you move on.”
While most players chose to be diplomatic when talking about Heatley’s return, Chris Kelly admitted he was looking forward to watching the fans reaction.
“I’m really excited,” Kelly said with a smile. “I want to see how he’s treated out there by the fans. I’m sure it’s going to be entertaining. I’ll be looking in warm-up to see who has the best sign.”
Notes: Daniel Alfredsson and Alex Kovalev missed practice, but both are expected to play Thursday against San Jose.