It’s the moment that every NHL player fears.
When they’ve played with the same team for years, to the point where home ice feel like a second home, and then something from “the business side of the game” evicts them. They’re wearing a different uniform, on a different team, with different teammates. They return to the place they used to call home and — to their horror — they have to get suited up in the visiting dressing room.
Not the one meticulously constructed and maintained to maximize the comfort levels of hometown heroes. No, that other one. The proverbial futon in the basement for house guests.
“It’s a little awkward, walking in here and going to the visitors’ room,” Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel said. On Thursday night (7 p.m. ET on ESPN+), he’s returning to face the Sabres in Buffalo for the first time since their rancorous split, one that ended with him being traded to Vegas.
It can get more than a little awkward for NHL players who return to their former arenas wearing another team’s jersey for the first time.
They all can’t be lovefests, like when Jarome Iginla returned to Calgary with the Boston Bruins in 2013 to a video tribute, multiple standing ovations and his uniform number projected on the ice. Sometimes it’s like when Jesperi Kotkaniemi returned to Montreal this season after signing an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Canadiens fans treated him with the adulation of stepping barefoot on a Lego.
Eichel said on Wednesday he didn’t know what he was walking into with Sabres fans.
“It’s definitely strange. But I’m not the first guy to get traded and go to another team,” he said. “You think about what sort of reception you’re going to get. But I can’t control that. Whatever the reception is, I can handle it.”
What might the reception look like? We took a look back at 10 recent NHL player homecomings from within the last 10 seasons, and scored them 1-10 based on four criteria:
- Buzz, as in the hype levels before the game
- Emotion, in either celebration or hostility
- Quality of game
- Comeuppance, as in whether the player or his former team had the last laugh that night
Here are 10 Eichel-level returns and how they played out: