Four years have passed since left wing Eric Tangradi last played a competitive hockey game in Belleville, Ontario. That will change Saturday.
Tangradi, who spent his junior career with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, will be back in town as he and the Winnipeg Jets face the Washington Capitals in the Kraft Hockeyville game (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CBC), which will drop the puck on the 2013 NHL preseason.
Tangradi, 24, spent three seasons with the Bulls (2006-09), which included a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2008. In 176 OHL games, he had 67 goals and 101 assists.
"My second year we were playing Kitchener in the finals and [it was] one of the hardest-fought series I think we ever played in there," Tangradi told NHL.com. "I think it was Game 4, we were down 3-0 in the series and were able to fight back to go to seven [games]. We lost in seven, but there was a game in Belleville where it was a tempered game. We scored with a minute to go, we scored in overtime, and it was probably the loudest I ever heard that building. I think the roof almost came off that night.
A capacity crowd is expected at Yardmen Arena, which holds just over 3,000 people. Belleville will host the game to accommodate more people from the community of Stirling-Rawdon, which won the 2012 Kraft Hockeyville competition but didn't get to have a preseason game last September due to the work stoppage.
"The Bulls are the biggest thing in town," Tangradi said. "The fans, they love their hockey. It's a great accomplishment. I know Stirling is the one that got it, but for them [Belleville] to be able to host an event like this, I think it's something the people definitely deserve and are going to appreciate. I hope it's a great night for everybody."
Many of the fans in attendance will be children involved in youth hockey programs in Stirling-Rawdon who now will get to experience an NHL game in their community. Tangradi hopes the Jets and Capitals can provide the hockey-crazed town a night it won't soon forget.
"I think it's amazing," Tangradi said. "I know Belleville and that surrounding area, it's really tough with the Leafs and the Sens, and getting to a hockey game is very expensive. I think it's an opportunity for kids in the area that may not have the opportunity to get to an NHL game at this age. To be able to see one so close is a great rush, and I think it will be an exciting night with lots of memories and hopefully the kids really do appreciate it."
A Philadelphia native, Tangradi is grateful for his time in Belleville, where he was able to showcase his abilities to scouts that ultimately led to him being selected in the second round (No. 42) of the 2007 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks. On Saturday, he gets to return to the place where it all started.
"I think it's very cool," Tangradi said of the Hockeyville competition. "I am American, but I consider myself to have a little bit of Canadian in me because of my roots back to Belleville. When you see the videos and when towns put their bid in to try to win, it's pretty neat and unique to see what these little towns have to offer, and how much they do enjoy and love the game of hockey."