NEW YORK -- Derek Stepan is expecting his return to Madison Square Garden on Thursday night to be an emotional one, as he takes the ice as a member of the Coyotes against the New York Rangers, the team for whom he played the first seven seasons of his NHL career.
Stepan practiced with the Coyotes at MSG on Wednesday, hoping to get some of the awkwardness out of the way before his first game against his ex-team.
"It's definitely different," Stepan said after practice, from his stall inside the away team's dressing room. "It's something that I've never experienced before, but it felt like a normal day pretty much after the walk in and getting into the locker room and back to practice and back to work. But we'll see about tomorrow. I'm not so sure it's going to feel like a normal day … I'm an emotional guy. I spent seven years here. It's going to be a rough day, I think."
Stepan is hoping his first game back at MSG is a win for the Coyotes. With a record of 0-8-1, Arizona sure could use one.
The Coyotes traded for Stepan, 27, to be the team's top center and to serve as one of the leaders for the young roster. He's done both. Stepan will enter the game ranked tied for second on the team with seven points, and he's one of five alternate captains.
Stepan spoke openly about the team's poor start to the season on Wednesday. He said dwelling on the winless record will do no good.
Video: Stepan on Returning to New York
"You can't nitpick too much because you'll just beat yourself up," Stepan said. "I don't think anybody in this room really knows the answer why. And I don't think there's anything that needs to be said other than 'Let's just out-score the other guys and let's just win a game.' Plain and simple."
The Rangers will enter the game with just two wins after 10 games.
A New York-based reporter asked Stepan if he'd been following his former team's early struggles.
"Honestly, we've got enough going on in our room," Stepan said. "I'm not going to try to figure out what's going on in their room."
Stepan played 515 regular-season games for the Rangers and 97 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His time spent in New York meant a lot to him and his family, and he endeared himself to the fan base. That's why Thursday's game promises to be a memorable one for Stepan, win or lose.
"I'm excited, I'm nervous, I'm ready, I'm all these things," Stepan said. "I'm just trying to stick to the plan, right? I don't even know if there is a plan, but I'm telling myself there is one."