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Excitement hits Keith Tkachuk ahead of Wednesday

Keith and Chantal Tkachuk will be cheering on Matthew on Wednesday in Edmonton

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- No, February 28th, 1992 doesn't seem like yesterday, in case you're wondering.

Still, the sights, the sounds, the newness of that night is something that has never faded from memory. And never will.

"No question, I was a bit nervous,'' recalls Keith Tkachuk. "I flew from Boston to Winnipeg and then the team went to Edmonton.

"Your first NHL game is special.

"I didn't play there because they felt I should get a practice in but I did get in, my first game, two nights later in Vancouver.

"Back in the early '90s, the Canucks had a big, tough team. Jimmy Sandlak. Sergio Momesso. (Gerald) Diduck. (Trevor) Linden. (Dana) Murzyn.

"Big players, tough players, but good players.

"So I just got thrown into the fire. Kind of like, 'Okay, kid. Here you go.' I'll never forget it. In that dark, old Vancouver Coliseum.

"My linemates were Troy Murray and Danton Cole. We lost, I think (5-3) and then I remember flying back to Winnipeg that night, landing about two in the morning and getting dropped off with my bag and the trainer at some place or other.

"And that was it. The start."

Of an 18-season, 1200-game, 1065-point career that landed him in the USA Hockey Hall of Fame.

Scroll forward nearly 24 years later, and Matthew Tkachuk - picked 13 spots ahead of his dad, sixth overall, in the first round, 26 years apart - opens his NHL regular-season-games-played account Wednesday evening up in Edmonton.

"It's SO different today,'' laughs Tkachuk the elder. "Now, everything's so planned out for the players, everything's taken care of.

"Heck, I think my parents gave me money for the trip to Winnipeg because I hadn't had a paycheque yet. Credit card? What's a credit card? We didn't have credit cards.

"No cell phones either, of course. So I used to call home collect."

Keith and Chantal Tkachuk are flying in, St. Louis via Minneapolis, for the their son's big night.

They'll watch the game at Rogers Place and then make the three-hour drive to Calgary for Friday's rematch against the Oilers at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The father has purposely kept at arm's length, not wanting to bombard him with advice.

"You don't want to say too much,'' emphasizes Keith. "You don't want to seem pushy. So you kind of just let him ask questions. If he wants to talk, great. He's a smart kid.

"A first game … it's actually hard to explain, anyway. I'd get butterflies every opening night, not just my first NHL game but even when I was 35 years old."

Following a highly-praised pre-season, Matthew Tkachuk enters into fire. No one more patchwork road lineups to face.

"He knows that. It's going to be an adjustment.

"First shift, might as well write that one off. But he's a pretty focused kid. Every challenge he's faced, he's passed the test. Bigger players, faster players … whenever he's stepped up a level, he's found a way.

"It's going to be a memorable moment for him and once he gets past that first shift I think he'll blend in nicely.

"I'm rooting for him. My wife is rooting for him. We're nervous. I won't lie to you there. Probably more nervous than Matthew.

"It'll be one of the best moments of our lives but also one of the toughest because, you know, you worry about your kid. Your son, your daughter, you want them to do well, be successful in whatever they do, right?

"It's a little different as a parent. Even after playing a thousand games myself, I'll admit I'm still a little nervous watching him.

"We can't say enough about the how he's been treated by Calgary.

"The situation for Matthew there has been nothing but great. And, as a parent, that's so reassuring."

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