Fans of the Ottawa Senators aren't the only ones still upset at Dany Heatley for bolting out of town two seasons ago, the owner is still harbouring strong feelings over the move as well.
"You know what, I wouldn't even give him the time of day. It's not even worth a comment. He doesn't warrant even a mention," said Sens' owner Eugene Melnyk, talking about his former star.
Melnyk's quote comes the day before Heatley, who played for the Senators for four seasons prior to demanding a trade out of town, returns to Ottawa for the first time as a member of the San Jose Sharks.
The game can be seen Thursday on TSN at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.
While most of the sports world prepares for LeBron James' highly anticipated return to Cleveland, Senators fans have their own return of a former star to pine for, and are readying themselves in more ways than one.
Leading up to the game, Heatley has predictably been the target of Ottawa sports radio through different call-in segments and even a song parody. The Sens' marketing department is going to extra lengths to make sure Scotiabank Place is filled with raucous fans, and even a 'Dany Heatley Hate Fest' has been informally organized by Senator fans.
All the extra attention has current Sens players excited to see the atmosphere in the Scotiabank Place come game time.
"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 warmup to see who's got the best sign," said forward Chris Kelly, who played with Heatley for all four of his years in the Nation's Capital.
Heatley's return will likely bring out even more boo birds than Alexei Yashin's in 2001, when the former captain was booed heartily all game long.
"I'm sure it's not going to be pleasant, like anyone who goes back into a situation like he's coming back to," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "Maybe we can get a jolt from the crowd." Spezza, a friend of Heatley's, was also reported to want out of Ottawa the summer after Heatley left, but has since smoothed things over with Sens management and fans.
Speaking over the weekend, Heatley acknowledged that he'd be heading into a hostile environment Thursday at the Scotiabank Centre.
"I think there are going to be some boo's," said Heatley. "Just the way things ended there and the way things went down. But, they're fans. They pay a lot of money to go to the game and they are entitled to do whatever they want."
The 29-year-old winger, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in 23 games this year, also said he is eager to catch up with some old friends on the team.
"A lot of people are asking if I'm dreading it. You know, I'm really looking forward to seeing some people. People around the rink, people involved with the team, people that I'm very good friends with. That will be fun for me."
While Heatley won't be catching up with Melnyk, one person he hasn't talked to since the trade that would be open to a reunion is general manager Bryan Murray.
"Well I had a good talk with Dany after we made the deal. He gave me some thoughts on what happened and what was going on at the time," said Murray. "I don't know that he'll extend his hand or I will, but certainly I would talk to him if he wants."
As for Heatley's former teammates, they know their fans have had Thursday circled on their calendars the whole year, but for them it's just another game.
"We want to win, we want to get rolling again and obviously it'd be good to beat these guys," said Spezza. "They're a good club, and with Heater coming back it means a little more to the fans, but we're not going to get too wrapped up in things, we still have to just worry about playing."