Eric Tangradi and the Jets arrived in town Friday night, and the 24-year-old forward quickly met up for dinner with Rob and Ilene Cook, his billets during his time with the Belleville Bulls from 2006-09. The memories immediately began to flow back.
"When I left last year, I kind of left with a tear in my eye thinking I would never see it again, maybe just to watch," Tangradi said Saturday morning after the Jets made final preparations for their game against the Capitals (7 p.m. ET, CBC, NHL Network-U.S.). "When this game came up on the schedule, I was definitely very excited and just hoping to be in the lineup. Now that I am, I'm looking forward to tonight. I think it'll be a really special night."
Tangradi isn't the only Jets player in the lineup Saturday who has played in this rink before. Right wing Austen Brassard has been here more recently, having spent the past three-and-a-half seasons with the Bulls. Winnipeg's fifth-round pick (No. 149) is hoping to put forth a solid performance in front of a lot of familiar faces.
"When I heard the news I was going to be playing here, I was pretty excited," Brassard said. "I look forward to tonight and I'm just going to work hard and do the little things right and hopefully it goes well."
Washington goaltender Philipp Grubauer also has special memories of Belleville. The 21-year-old spent a season and a half with the Bulls (2009-10) and played behind Tangradi, as well as Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
"I learned a lot from that," Grubauer said. "Going into my second year, I played a lot. Lots of experience for me and lots of memories I look back to.
"To have the opportunity to play here, it's awesome. I'm one lucky man to be here. It's awesome, the one-and-a-half years I played here, and I'm happy to be back and see everybody. In the summer, I saw the schedule and saw that Washington was playing in Belleville and I was like, 'Oh man. I got to play there.' Today, I'm here."