Matthew Tkachuk's highly-anticipated return to Calgary was met with mixed emotion on Tuesday, as the Saddledome faithful gave it to the former Flames star all night long while also taking a moment to show him some love.
Not enough fans attended pregame warm-up to really gauge their reaction, but things escalated rather quickly off the opening face-off as Tkachuk was booed the second he touched the puck during his very first shift.
Those boos continued to rain down during every one of Tkachuk's ensuing shifts, too.
The fans did, however, give Tkachuk a rousing ovation while a video tribute was shown on the Jumbotron inside the arena. Their joyous applause was met with appreciation from the 24-year-old, who waved to the crowd from ice level.
The moment didn’t last long, though, as Flames fans returned to booing Tkachuk immediately off the ensuing draw. It was almost like nothing had transpired during the TV timeout.
Calgary skaters were seemingly unphased by the crowd’s reactions as the team jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the opening frame, with Jonathan Huberdeau — who was shipped to Calgary as part of the return for Tkachuk — tallying the second of those three markers.
In fitting fashion, the Flames began the second period on the power play with Tkachuk in the penalty box for a cross-checking infraction. Later, as the game clock ticked down with the Flames up comfortably, "Huby's better" chants rocked the Saddledome rafters.
Tkachuk spoke about his tenure in Calgary before the game, thanking the fan base and his former teammates for helping to create so many memorable moments.
"I grew up here. I played with so many great teammates. The relationships I created with guys here will last forever," Tkachuk said to reporters pre-game. "I thank all the fans and the people in this community that made this place so special for me."
Tkachuk, a sixth-overall selection in 2016, spent his first six NHL seasons with the Flames, posting 152 goals and 382 points across 431 games. The 2021-22 All-Star also repeatedly showcased his physicality, racking up 596 hits while evolving into one of the game's premier agitators.
Tkachuk was a part of four separate playoff appearances (2017, 2019, 2020, 2022) with Calgary, registering seven goals and 15 points in 27 postseason games. His team, however, never made it past the second round.
Calgary struck a blockbuster deal with Florida this past offseason after their star forward informed the Flames he wouldn't be signing long-term, sending Tkachuk and a 2025 fourth-rounder to the Panthers in exchange for forwards Huberdeau, Cole Schwindt, defenceman MacKenzie Weegar and a 2025 first-rounder.
The Panthers then inked their newest superstar to a lucrative eight-year, $76-million contract extension that runs through 2029-30. His deal features a $9.5-million cap hit and includes a full no-move clause from 2023-28 and a 16-team no-trade list through the remainder of the deal.
This season, Tkachuk has tallied 10 goals and 29 points with the Panthers while averaging a career-high 21:13 minutes of ice-time per game.
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