Tanev is latest Penguins player to experience facing former team
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Bell MTS Centre is the smallest building in the NHL by seating capacity.
Capable of holding only 15,321 frigid but hearty souls from the Canadian Prairies, it is the league’s leanest by nearly 500 seats. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, part-time home of the New York Islanders, is the second smallest at 15,813 seats.
Heck, even a handful of AHL barns hold more than the Bell MTS Centre.
But good luck finding a rink with more passion.
When the NHL decided to pluck the floundering Thrashers out of Atlanta in 2011 and move the franchise to Winnipeg, it knew what it might lose in tangible ticket sales it would make up in support, both in the moral and, most importantly, corporate realms.
As a result, the Bell MTS Centre is one of the rowdiest and most distinctive venues in the NHL.
Brandon Tanev is well aware of this. He spent the first four seasons of his NHL career there as a speedy and relentless forechecker. His assiduous style of play made Tanev, a key contributor to the Jets’ surprising run to the Western Conference final in 2018, a favorite of those crossing at Portage and Main, the famed intersection in Winnipeg.
Signed by the Penguins to a six-year contract worth $21 million this past offseason, he has gotten his initial games against his former team out of the way early. He played them Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena then faced them as a visitor Sunday.
Any romantic notions of a heartwarming return for Tanev aren’t openly shared by the man himself.
“When the puck drops, there’s no friends on the ice,” he said.
His feeling about his first games — home and away — against his former team aren’t universal. Several of his teammates who have worn other sweaters during their NHL careers have had a variety of experiences.
“It’s always a fun game,” said defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who has also played for the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks. “It’s always a little bit different than most nights. You’ve got a little bit of a chip on your shoulder.
Added former Buffalo defenseman Chad Ruhwedel: “It’s a little bit of a weird feeling at first, especially if (you don’t) have too much time removed from them. It’s good though.”
Players also have different experiences when it comes to how long their return game feels unique.
“The first time you go out for warmups and look across and you know every guys on the other team, it’s a different experience,” said defenseman Jack Johnson, a former member of the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets. “But after your first few shifts, you’re going, and you’re playing hockey.”
Said forward Jared McCann, who was dealt from Vancouver to Florida in 2016 in exchange for Gudbranson: “You kind of think about it the whole time to be honest with you. It’s just in the back of your head. Whether you admit it or not, it is. Some guys say it’s not, but …”
“After the first shift,” Ruhwedel said. “For me at least, I don’t think about it much after the first shift. Then you’re just playing.”
Regardless of how pleasant a player’s tenure was with an ex-team or if he departed on good or bad terms, there is one sentiment which is universal: He would prefer his current employer got the victory.
“You play with a chip on your shoulder,” McCann said. “You want to win that game a little bit more than you do other ones.”
Added Ruhwedel: “It’s even more fun if you go in there and play well and get a win for your new team.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .