SUN Hockey Pool

Homecoming for Hawks' Pisani

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:58 PM ET

Wednesday morning was the first time Fernando Pisani walked into Rexall Place and turned left.

For seven seasons the local product would go into the Edmonton Oilers arena and head towards the home dressing room.

This time, Pisani walked over the visitors room, making his first appearance in Edmonton since singing a free agent contract with the Chicago Blackhawks this summer.

“It’s going to be different, especially walking into the building where I had to go this way (visitors) instead of the other direction towards the other dressing room,” Pisani said before the game. “Hopefully once the game gets going, it’ll be just another game for me and that’s what I’m trying to focus on. But it’s good to be back, it should be exciting. I have a lot of people coming to the game and I’m looking forward to it.”

Wednesday was Pisani’s third game against the Oilers this season.

Having faced them in Chicago twice already helped lower the anxiety level heading into this one.

“The first game in Chicago helped a lot,” he said. “This will be our third game against them now, obviously it’s a little bit tough coming back into this building, but it helps having played a couple of games against them already.”

The Oilers organization welcomed back their native son with a video tribute before the contest. It featured many of Pisani’s heroics during the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, where he scored 14 goals, including a short-handed overtime winner in Game 5 of the final against the Carolina Hurricanes.

“That’s the one that was obviously very special to me,” said Pisani. “No one else has done that before (short-handed overtime winner) and it’s nice to be the first one to be able to do that.

“It’s a little bit emotional. I grew up here, I played here and I have all my family and friends here. The fans have supported me through the good times and the bad. When I was sick, they were phenomenal to me. If they cheer me that would be awesome, if they boo me, that’s part of hockey and you deal with it. But it should be exciting.”

Selected by the Oilers in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Pisani, 33, worked his way through the system before cracking the roster midway though the 2002-2003 season.

He parlayed his playoff success into a four-year contract extension with the Oilers, but was never able to regain that scoring touch.

Pisani ran into health issues, starting with a dramatic battle against ulcerative colitis that potentially could have cost him more than just a hockey career.

He then broke an ankle and suffered through back problems, limiting his effectiveness.

After parting ways with the Oilers Pisani became part of the Blackhawks restructuring.

He had two goals and two assist heading into the game against the Oilers.

One of those goals actually came against his former team less than two weeks ago.

“Things are going well in Chicago, I’m enjoying the transition,” Pisani said. “It’s a lot of fun. The guys on the team have been great, the organization has been great.

“Personally as a player, you want to do more, you want to do better and that’s what drives you to succeed. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Being healthy for the first time in three years has also helped.

The Blackhawks are using the former post-season sniper in a checking role on the third line, with penalty-killing duties

“We like him, I think he’s been very useful to us in a lot of ways,” said

Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. “The fact that he can play centre is something we wanted to try. It looks like he knows the responsibilities, he’s a reliable, dependable guy. He does a good job killing penalties and he’s been useful to us in all ways.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


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