Ethan Moreau didn’t have much time to savour his return to Edmonton.
Playing the second game on consecutive nights, the former Edmonton Oilers captain parachuted into town in the early morning hours Thursday, played his first game against his former club, and was quickly on his way.
“It’s a little different,” Moreau said prior to the contest. “Checking into a hotel that you’ve driven past so many times is different. It’s a little bit weird because we’re playing back-to-back games coming here, so we’re running on fumes a little bit, having got into town at 3 a.m.
“I think it would have been different if I had the whole day here and got to see a lot of people. It’s probably the best to get in and play, then head out.”
Moreau, 35, spent 11 seasons with the Oilers, serving as captain for three of them. The native of Huntsville, Ont., was waived this summer with a year left on his contract, and was picked up by the Blue Jackets.
Thursday marked his first game against the Oilers, having missed the teams’ previous encounter this season in Columbus with a hand injury.
“He’s a great guy, he’s a great teammate and he’s a great leader,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “But, there are times when a change is necessary. Sometimes a change is really good for a player. I’m not going to say I agree or disagree with him not being here or not, but bottom line is that he has a new lease on life, he’s an NHL player, he’s a leader, he’s important to his team.”
A year ago, a season that as started with so much promise quickly spiraled down the drain for Moreau and the Oilers.
Finishing at the bottom of the league standings forced the team to adopt a rebuilding strategy, making Moreau and a number of other veterans expendable at the end of the season.
“It was tough last season,” Moreau said. “Losing breeds a bad attitude. There was a lot of negativity surrounding our team for a couple of years, but we tried our best to keep guys together.
“There wasn’t any fighting within our group and we tried to make the best of a bad situation.”
Originally selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round — 14th overall — of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Moreau came to the Oilers via a trade midway through the 1998-99 season.
He quickly established himself as a core player and was eventually named captain following the departure of Jason Smith.
As captain, Moreau did his best to lead a team in transition, going as far as allowing Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert to live in a house he owned during their rookie seasons.
“I think I was a pretty lenient landlord,” Moreau smiled. “The house was fine when I got it back. They’re good kids. There are a lot of good guys over there. I got to know a lot of those young guys that came in, there are a lot of respectful guys and I made a lot of great friends over there.
“I had a lot of good teammates over the years and I was really fortunate to play with a lot of good people.”
Moreau’s highlights with the Oilers was coming within a win of the Stanley Cup in 2006. Unfortunately for him, the club was never able to attain similar success and missed the playoffs in the following four seasons, including the three he was captain.
“I’ve seen this year’s team mostly on the highlights,” Moreau said. “They’re a tough team to prepare for, because you never know what you’re going to get.
“There is an element of speed and skill to their team and on other nights, they don’t look quite as good. They’re kind of all over the place right now, which is to be expected.”
Moreau started the year well in Columbus, scoring an overtime winner in his second game with the Blue Jackets. However, he suffered a setback when he broke his hand six games into the season. He returned in early December, and heading into Thursday’s contest, has a goal and three assists in 13 games.
“I’m just trying to find my game again and for the last couple of weeks I’m starting to have fun again,” he said. “But the city in general and the people have been great. Everyone in general has been really supportive and so far it’s been a lot of fun.”