Heatley's return 'not just another game'

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

Matt Barnaby has walked in Dany Heatley’s shoes, or skated in his skates, if you prefer.

Barnaby doesn’t envy what the Sharks winger will face when he skates into enemy territory Thursday for the first time since Heatley told Ottawa GM Bryan Murray he no longer wanted to play for the Senators.

First of all, Barnaby said, don’t believe anything Heatley says about playing the Senators isn’t a big deal.

“He’s going to say, ‘It’s just another game.’ That cliche is bulls--t,” Barnaby, an Ottawa native, said Monday. “This is not just another game for Dany Heatley.”

A rough-and-tumble player with the Sabres for six seasons, Barnaby asked then-Buffalo GM John Muckler for a trade during the 1997-98 campaign. He couldn’t stand his role and didn’t like playing for then-coach Ted Nolan.

Unlike Heatley, Barnaby played another year in Buffalo before his wish was granted by new GM Darcy Regier, who sent Barnaby to the Penguins on March 11, 1999.

Barnaby recalled going back the next season to face the Sabres for the first time in Buffalo.

“When I came back for the first time, I went from being a key guy in the community and a favourite son, to being booed every time I touched the puck, every time I got on the ice and it’s hard. It’s really hard,” said Barnaby.

“I relished it a little bit because I wanted to be the villain and I wanted to be that guy, but it’s tough when you’re getting sh-t on all over the place when you used to be a heart-and-soul player for six years.”

Heatley hasn’t been back to Ottawa since the trade, but the fans here have long memories. He signed a six-year, $45-million US deal in the fall of 2007, that included a no-movement clause and then asked for a trade two less than two years later.

“Mine was different than Heatley. I asked several times to be traded,” said Barnaby, an analyst with ESPN. “As much as people sympathized with me, and I still did have some fans, this wasn’t close to what Dany Heatley is going to face.

“He did what he did, he signed a big contract and it’s going to be a lot tougher for him than it was for me. It’s just never easy to go back into that old building for the first time in that atmosphere. The mentality from the fans is it’s about all about Dany Heatley.”

Barnaby said Heatley will be fired up.

“He’s going to be excited to play that team again,” said Barnaby. “No matter (if) what he did was right or wrong, he’s going to want to prove that he’s still a good player and somebody who can make a difference.

“He’s going to be looking forward to that game, but at the same time, there are so many emotions involved. You’re not used to going into the visitors’ (dressing) room. Just playing in the rink as a visitor is so different. That’s the hardest part.”

Heatley’s teammates will want him to succeed, said Barnaby.

“The first period, he’s going to be a little rocky and a little jittery,” said Barnaby. “If they give him a chance on the power play, he knows where to go and he knows how to score goals. I think he’ll perform well.”

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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