On Friday night, Scott Hartnell will skate out for warm-ups at Wells Fargo Center as a visitor for the first time in eight seasons. For seven years, Hartnell was a Philadelphia Flyer, where he played 517 regular season games, 75 postseason games, and one Stanley Cup Final.
He returns in a different jersey to a fan base that loved him and a building notoriously hostile to players they don’t.
“It is a difficult building. It’s a loud building," Hartnell said. "When they get going, there’s just an atmosphere in there that’s pretty incredible. It’s one of the coolest places I’ve been as a player and I loved my time there obviously. Hopefully I can be one of those guys they love to hate and have a great game.”
The role of the villain is one that Hartnell played well during his time in Philadelphia. His hard-hitting, sandpaper style that has already meshed so naturally in Columbus made him a vintage reminder of the Broad Street Bullies days of the 1970s, particularly in playoff battles against the Penguins.
Friday night’s game won’t provide the atmosphere of a playoff match-up or the venom in the stands reserved for Hartnell in Pittsburgh and New York, but in the Blue Jackets locker room the urgency for a win may reach that level.
“We talked about it last year, the importance of winning games once you’ve dug yourself a hole and each game becomes more critical,” said coach Todd Richards after Thursday’s practice. “We’re 15 games in and getting ready for 16, and each game is getting to that stage.”
Not yet ready to sound the alarms, the Blue Jackets have reinforcements on the way. Matt Calvert and Jack Skille won’t be traveling to Philadelphia with the team, but goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and Artem Anisimov will both be on the plane.
Both players took part in a full practice on Thursday and though their status for Friday night remains in question, their returns appear closer than they are farther away.
“The more guys we get back, the better,” said defenseman Jack Johnson, who will be making his return to the lineup Friday after serving a three-game suspension. “Each guy adds a little more depth in the lineup, a little bit more jump and a bit more experience. Nothing but good things come from it.”
The rehabilitation of the lineup becomes an encouraging boost for a struggling team, and so does the opportunity to support a teammate. Earlier in the week Richards felt the players would rally around Hartnell to get him a win in his return. The team needs a win regardless of the opponent, but players are aware of the context for Hartnell’s first game back in front of the Flyer faithful.
“We want to get a win for him. Most of us have been in that situation so we know what it’s like,” said Johnson. “There will probably be a lot of friends in the stands for him and we want to make it a good memory for him, for sure.”
The story of Hartnell’s return hasn’t been lost amidst the team’s difficult stretch, nor has that stretch been forgotten. It becomes a question: does the team’s focus of getting back in the win column take pressure off of Hartnell in his return to Philadelphia, or does getting a win for him help distract the players from the past nine games?
“There will be a little bit of emotion and maybe that’ll help the guys take away from what’s going on with us,” said Hartnell." But (the Flyers) have had almost a week off. Hopefully we can jump on them, us being fresh and playing a couple days ago. Maybe we can catch them sleeping a little bit.
“What we need to do is get a big win.”