I think I’ve learned to do a good job of blocking everything out and trying to focus on my game. Hopefully I’m just going to continue to be doing what I’ve been doing and try to keep it just a regular hockey game. - Josh Jooris
TORONTO, ON -- The distractions are many. The impact? Minimal.
For the seven locals suiting up for the Calgary Flames, playing so close to home isn’t much of an issue.
“I think once you play, I played here, this is nothing now because you can set your boundaries,” said centre Matt Stajan. “Every home game I had to go through it for my first couple years. If you look at our guest list for today, there are 20 or 30 guests for some of the players. You do that part, it’s part of what we do, you set that all up, but once it’s game time, your focus is on playing the game. It’s the same old once you’re out there.”
Growing up in the neighbouring Mississauaga, Stajan spent seven seasons and 445 games playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s used to tackling media, arranging tickets and visiting family. It’s old hat for the 30-year-old.
Sean Monahan, though? Not so much. Tuesday’s game at Air Canada Centre will mark just the second time coming back for the Brampton native.
Still, the 20-year-old admitted he does what he can to avoid any added stress.
“It can be, but it’s something that I don’t let effect my game,” said Monahan, who grew up roughly 45 minutes away from Toronto and expects anywhere in the neighbourhood of 100-150 friends and family in attendance. “It’s just another hockey game and it’s just kind of more of a privilege to be able to play in front of [family].
“It’s a privilege. Coming back here and being able to see my friends and my family and grandparents and stuff like that, for them to get a chance to see me play live, it’s pretty special and I’m really looking forward to playing in front of them tonight.”
Mark Giordano (Toronto), David Jones (Guelph), Dennis Wideman (Kitchener), Brian McGrattan (Hamilton) and Josh Jooris (Burlington) are also locals.
For Jooris, Tuesday's game will be his first NHL contest so close to home.
“I think I’ve learned to do a good job of blocking everything out and trying to focus on my game,” he said. “Hopefully I’m just going to continue to be doing what I’ve been doing and try to keep it just a regular hockey game.”
Despite the magnitude of the game for the 24-year-old, Jooris isn’t on the line for too many tickets. He's had plenty of help in that department.
“My family has done a great job and so have my friends,” said Jooris, a veteran of just 21 games. “There’s going to be quite a few people here. I’m not sure the exact number, but they made it easy on me. There should be a good crew there tonight.
“I always came to the games and it was always an exciting time when I got to come to the games with my dad, my family or friends. I came to a lot growing up and it’s always a kids dream to envision yourself on this ice someday.
“Now that it’s actually happening and tonight I’ll be able to play at the ACC and play against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s going to be a pinch moment. I’ve got to try to keep that in check and it’ll be a fun time.”
Stajan’s advice for Jooris? Simply enjoy.
“You tell them to enjoy it,” he said. “You don’t get to be close to your family and friends very often when you play games, so you enjoy it. I’m sure everybody got to see some faces you haven’t seen in a while last night for dinner.
“Today’s game day, so it’s all business. After the game you can go hang out with some family and friends again.”