COLUMBUS, Ohio--Matt Calvert is from Brandon, Manitoba, but in many ways he grew up in Ohio's capital city.
He was selected in the fifth round (No. 127 overall) by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and played eight seasons with the club. He recorded 149 points (72 goals and 77 assists) in 416 games and went through the ups and downs with the organization during his time there. Calvert started a family with his wife Courtney in the Buckeye State and grew to love the city, the fans and the team.
So tonight's Colorado Avalanche game will be a little "weird" for him as he'll play his first outing at Nationwide Arena as a member of the visiting squad.
"It was a little tough sleeping last night," Calvert said following the Avs' morning skate. "Your brain is running, facing your old teammates. I'm going to enjoy it and have some fun with it."
Calvert, 28, entered the offseason as an unrestricted free agent after the Blue Jackets didn't sign him and started taking offers from other NHL teams that were looking for a left wing who is solid defensively but also has some nice offensive aptitude to his game.
He ultimately chose Colorado, inking a three-year deal soon after the free agency period opened on July 1. Much like the old settlers did back in the 1800's, Calvert and his family left their home in the Midwest and headed toward the Rocky Mountains.
"We loved living here. It was a great eight years living here, and you obviously make great, lifelong friends, and that's what we miss the most," Calvert said. "We're looking forward to new adventures and making new friends, but it's great to reminisce."
Video: Matt Calvert returns to Columbus
Through two games of the 2018-19 campaign, Calvert has been entrusted by the Avalanche to be one of the primary contributors on the penalty kill and help lead one the team's young even-strength lines. He has five shots on goal and is averaging 13:55 of ice time, with 2:48 of it coming from short-handed situations.
He's starting to become more comfortable on and off the ice in the Mile High City.
"It's been great. We love the city," Calvert said. "I think our family has got settled down finally. My first month was a little crazy. Obviously hockey-wise, you're starting to carve out a role for yourself, starting to get used to the guys, starting to get used to your linemates. I have had a lot of fun so far. We've won two hockey games, so there is definitely no complaints."
Calvert is the elder statesman on his line through the first two contests of the campaign, as head coach Jared Bednar has played the forward alongside 23-year-old J.T. Compher and 24-year-old Sheldon Dries--two players trying to establish themselves in the league just like Calvert did years ago.
Bednar knows there will be plenty of emotions in Calvert's return to Columbus.
"I'm excited for him," Bednar said. "You put a lot of years in an organization, and you're a heart-and-soul guy and the team means everything to you and at some point things come to an end. Now he's with us, and coming back home I'm sure it will be an emotional night. I'm sure he'll be charged up ready to go."
Calvert has already had his chance to say hello to some of his former teammates as he and Avs defenseman Ian Cole (a former Columbus player himself) went out to dinner with several Blue Jackets players on Monday night. Calvert said it was fun reminiscing of old times with friends, but that will now be put on hold until the final horn sounds this evening.
"It's going to be weird, but once the puck drops its game time, right?," Calvert said. "You're friends off the ice and you try and play your game the way you normally would."
SMALLER HOMECOMING FOR COLE
Ian Cole was only a member of the Blue Jackets for two months but came away impressed with what he saw during his short time with the organization.
"The team, the staff, the coaches, the fans, they all embraced me… I am excited to go back, excited to see some of the old teammates, maybe get dinner with them or something," said Cole. "It's always a very intense place to play, it's always a battle every time you are playing that team. They got some great players, so it's going to be a challenge and definitely a challenge we are looking forward to."
Cole was acquired by Columbus at last season's NHL Trade Deadline from the Ottawa Senators, three days after they acquired him from the Pittsburgh Penguins. He never played a game for the Senators.
The defenseman signed a three-year contract with Avalanche as a free agent on July 1.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer will make his Avalanche regular-season debut this evening after being acquired in a draft-night trade this past summer with the Washington Capitals.
"He's been building here in practice. He's anxious to get into the net," Bednar said of Grubauer. "He's familiar with Columbus having played them in the East last year. I'm anxious to see him play. We know what we have in him as a goalie, but we want to see it live now here and hopefully he can help us continue to get some wins here."
Grubauer's last contest that mattered came against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was the starting netminder for the Capitals in Game 2 of their first round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 15.
Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov played in the first two contests of the season at home, earning victories against the Minnesota Wild and Philadelphia Flyers.
"You want to get the two points, you want to play the right way first game, get off to a good start of the season," Grubauer said following Monday's practice. "The guys played unbelievable the last two games, and we will try to carry that over. The last home game was really important before we go on the road."