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Rocky Mountain buh-bye

Calgary Flames' Alex Tanguay during practice at the Saddledome. (SUN/Darren Makowichuk)

Calgary Flames' Alex Tanguay during practice at the Saddledome. (SUN/Darren Makowichuk)

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

It's not just another game for Alex Tanguay.

It never is when someone plays against his first NHL team for the first time.

Tanguay, who toiled for the Colorado Avalanche for six seasons before being dealt to the Calgary Flames on draft day last summer, says he's approaching tonight's game against his former mates just like any other.

Then he admits it's not.

"I know it sounds weird but I just have to say it sounds like it's gonna be just another game," started Tanguay yesterday.

"It's not -- but that's the way we've got to approach it right now with our situation.

"We have to focus on what we need to do to get back in a playoff position.

"They're a division rival, so we move up, they move down, it's as simple as that."

Tanguay and his current teammates were businesslike after a disappointing two-game trip to Southern California where they dropped games to the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks to fall back to .500 on the season and last place in their division.

Yet tonight's Tanguay subplot is compelling.

Darren McCarty scored a key goal -- one of only seven tallies all season -- when his former team from Detroit motored through the Saddledome in their second meeting last year.

Veteran Tony Amonte, too, remembers the nervous excitement that coursed through his veins when facing longtime employer Chicago as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It's always emotional," said Amonte.

"Usually you get so excited, so wound up, you're out there skating around like a maniac. After the first one, it was kind of easier, I can say that."

The way Tanguay has played over the past couple of weeks, curiosity begs the question: What can he do with a little extra motivation?

"I expect a great game," said Amonte.

"He's a top player. The way he's been, he's probably going to throw up a great performance."

Tanguay concedes the motivation factor is there.

"It's certainly going to be good motivation, that's for sure," said the 27-year-old left-winger who put up 400 points in 450 games with the Avalanche.

"It's gonna feel different. I'd been part of that organization for a long time. We'll see how it goes."

The makeup of the Avs franchise is much different than the one for which Tanguay scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2001.

Only Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk remain in the salary-cap era.

The team decided to let Rob Blake and Tanguay go this year after saying goodbye to Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote before last season.

While many faces had changed, it was still home to Tanguay, who doesn't view the trade that sent defenceman Jordan Leopold to Colorado as a deal forced by budget restrictions.

"They never called me to actually make me an offer; to see how much I wanted; to see how much

I was looking for," said Tanguay.

"It was a decision they made. They felt I wasn't a part of the team anymore.

"I knew they had some money restraints but from them never making me an offer, then I figured it wasn't only a cap situation."

The slightly cynical view of the transaction has been a backdrop to Tanguay's performance with the Flames.

As he's grown more comfortable in Calgary, his game has improved.

Kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if he could have exorcised his demons with an earlier matchup against his old colours.

"It might have put some closure a little earlier in the season but now I'm starting to feel like I belong on this team and I'm a part of this team," said Tanguay.

"I feel like this team here can contend. I haven't changed my mind.

"I'm happy to be here."


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