OTTAWA — The Rocky Mountain altitude isn't the only thing Matt Stajan has to adjust to with the Calgary Flames.
Finding himself a little short of breath at times over his first few whirlwind days in Calgary wasn't just the result of the thinner air.
It's going to take the Mississauga product a while to get used to being away from home.
The trade from his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs to the Flames last week is still sinking in with the 26-year-old Stajan, who was never far from the GTA during his junior days with the nearby Belleville Bulls before being drafted by the Leafs in the second round in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, which was held at — you guessed it — the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
“There’s definitely change. You’re going from what you’re used to for seven years to something totally different. But some things are the same. The guys are all good guys. The hockey’s (still hockey). We’re still playing the game we’ve grown up playing and we love to do,” Stajan said.
“The mental part — that’s just trying to kind of wrap your head around what’s gone on. I’d be sitting here lying if I said it was nothing. It is a change. I think anybody who’s been through a trade when they’ve been on one team for a long time would say so.
“You’ve just got to battle through.”
Through four games so far with the Flames, Stajan has shown willingness and flashes of ability but hasn’t yet been able to assert himself as the team’s top centre.
He scored the game-winning goal — a highlight-reel worthy play as he kicked the puck up to his stick for the shot — in a win over the Carolina Hurricanes, but that’s his only point so far.
With Rene Bourque possibly shelved, even more will be expected of the talented forward.
Stajan showed crafty setup abilities again in the overtime loss in Tampa Saturday, but the team’s goal-scoring shortcomings continue.
So does his challenge of adapting to his new life away from the Leafs.
The Olympic break will give him time to let everything sink in and spend some quality time with his fiancee.
“I’ll take a bit of it to relax and do what I would have done if I was in Toronto,” Stajan said. “But I’m gonna spend a few extra days in Toronto and sort everything out. That’s actually a good thing to have coming up.”
He’ll have more time to pack for the return this time.
“We had about three, four hours to pack. I just threw a bunch of stuff together,” Stajan said of the scramble following the announcement of the trade that sent Dion Phaneuf and Fredrik Sjostrom to the Leafs and brought Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Ian White to the Flames. “I probably packed more than
I needed. I didn’t know what to bring or what to expect.”
His stay in Calgary could be brief. Stajan becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer and may opt for a return to his home province or to another NHL destination.
But friends feel the time away from Toronto will do Stajan some good.
“It’s probably tough on him,” said Florida Panthers defenceman Bryan McCabe, who played four seasons with Stajan in Toronto. “The first trade is always the hardest, especially coming from your hometown. You probably dreamed of playing for that team. It’s gonna take a toll mentally. In the long run, it’s gonna be better for him to get out of there.”
Stajan has heard that from more than McCabe.
“Definitely people have said that,” Stajan said. “That’s the way you’ve got to look at it, too. You’ve got to take the positive approach and see what good can come from this.”