Jay's getaway a big deal

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

In his effort to get away from a team that has undergone too many massive changes to count during his time with it, Jay Bouwmeester created another significant one.

Neither he nor former partner Karlis Skrastins patrol the Florida Panthers blueline any longer.

Last night, Bouwmeester suited up for the first time against the only NHL team with whom he's played, as the Flames hosted the Panthers at the Saddledome.

It was also ex-Cats captain Olli Jokinen's first appearance against his former team since he was dealt to Phoenix the weekend of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

"There's been lots of changes," Bouwmeester said yesterday morning, admitting he's taken note of what the team has done even though his rights were shipped to the Flames in a draft-day trade this past June.

"I know Steve Reinprecht," he said of the fellow Edmontonian the Panthers picked up shortly before his trade came.

"I know a couple of guys that are down there now. I think they've done some things that will help them.

"I still know and like a lot of guys on that team. It's one of those things you wish them the best."

Except, of course, when they play each other -- which will happen again Feb. 5 when the Flames visit South Florida.

For now, though, Bouwmeester is trying to get into a rhythm with new blueline partner Robyn Regehr.

Although nothing is set in stone, the former Olympic tandem has played and practised together in the pre-season.

"This early in the year ... you're still trying to get your feet under you," said Bouwmeester, who was on the ice for six goals in his first exhibition outing last week -- two for and four against. "It could have gone better. The first couple of games are always tough. You try to improve with every game.

"Still trying to work the kinks out."

Fans will give him time to adapt, and despite the Stampede City being a massive hockey market, Bouwmeester hasn't felt the full brunt of what he can expect once the regular-season kicks off.

But he's had a preview.

"It's different," Bouwmeester said. "Packed building. People are excited about it -- that's for sure," he said, acknowledging he has to remember how public his life could become here as opposed to the anonymity he enjoyed in the Miami area.

"You just have to be conscious and not go out and do anything stupid."

"The team here is a real big fixture in the community. I think people kind of relate to it.

"Down there, there's no real city where you're playing. It's kind of spread out. You're just kind of there," he added.

"Hockey's obviously different here."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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