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'BIG PIECE OF WHAT WE DO'

Flames players and coaches, including Mark Giordano, excited for return of No. 19 to the fold: "He's a big presence on our team. He's going to help in a lot of different departments."

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

A thunderous cheer went up when the deal was announced around dawn Wednesday morning.

That, and a smorgasbord of smiley emojis.

It was, as the kids say, 'lit.'

"The group chat sure was going this morning," laughed Travis Hamonic. "You can tell, we're excited to have him back."

 

Video: "It's great ... great that he's here"

 

The missing piece in the Flames' dressing room - the fan-favourite, heart-and-soul, man-of-steel Matthew Tkachuk - is right back where he belongs in red silks for at least the next three seasons. 

While Tkachuk was en route from his de facto training centre in London, Ont., his teammates gathered at the Scotiabank Saddledome and fielded questions from a throng of curious writers, cameras and commentators. 

"There was a hole there," said captain Mark Giordano. "We always felt like … you look at the lineup and you know you're missing Chucky. He's going to be a top-six guy in our lineup and to get him back is going to make us that much deeper. 

"He's a big presence on our team. He's going to help in a lot of different departments."

Tkachuk and general manager Brad Treliving agreed to a three-year deal with an average annual value of $7 million.

Head coach Bill Peters has already confirmed Tkachuk will play in Saturday's pre-season finale, naturally suiting up alongside his longtime '3M' compatriots, Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund. 

"Highly skilled, smart player," Backlund said, gushing at his pal's unique skill-set. "I really enjoy playing with him.

"He has that grit and that annoying side to him. It would drive me crazy to play against him, for sure. He's always in guys' faces, plenty of chirps, and we're happy he'll be back soon."

 

 

The Flames can't help but feel the excitement buzzing around the room - and the city. 

"What I will say is that it's nice to have our group together again," Hamonic said. "Chucky's such a big part of our team, both on and off the ice. To have him back in the fold and a week before we start the season, to hit the ground running, it's great. 

"He's a big piece of what we do."

Tkachuk tied for the team lead with 34 goals last year, set a new career high with 77 points (including 24 on the powerplay), and was involved in as much or more of the strenuous physical play that makes him one of the most challenging players to defend. 

But it was his work off the ice that, to a man, his teammates saw the biggest change last year. 

"He's a young guy who shows a lot of maturity off the ice and he's really taken on that role," Giordano said. "Last year, I thought he took a big step in being more vocal, but also doing the right things and leading by example."

For now, look for Tkachuk to slot into his usual spot in the top-six and join the No. 1 powerplay unit for Saturday's tilt against Edmonton. 

And pre-season or not, the Battle of Alberta is the perfect setting for Tkachuk to re-acquaint himself.

"He's been working hard and he'll want to hit the ground running," Peters said. "I know he won't want to listen to the narrative of, 'Well, if he gets off to a slow start, it's because he missed camp.' He doesn't want to hear that. 

"We'll try to get him up to speed as quick as we can."

 

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