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Flyers' Lecavalier faces Lightning in Tampa return

by Adam Kimelman

Vincent Lecavalier spent most of his professional hockey life at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. All that time as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning allowed him to become intimately familiar with every part of the building.

But the game at the arena Wednesday night will present a rare opportunity for Lecavalier, who will have to find the visitors' locker room.

"I've seen it," he said. "After 14 years, you walk in there a few times."

He'll do more than walk in there Wednesday, when he plays his first game against his former team when his current team, the Philadelphia Flyers, visit the Lightning.

"It's obviously going to be a special day," Lecavalier said. "I'll be excited about it. -- going back into the building, a different entranceway, different locker room. But I'm excited about it. I'm excited to play against my ex-teammates, friends, play in front of family. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Lecavalier was drafted by the Lightning with the first pick at the 1998 NHL Draft and spent his first 14 NHL seasons playing for them. When he signed an 11-year, $85 million contract extension in July 2008, it was assumed he'd finish his career with the Lightning.

But those plans changed June 27, when the Lightning used a compliance buyout to terminate the final seven years of the contract.

Lecavalier signed with the Flyers on July 6, and after four months in orange and black, he's tried to put the past in the past.

For one night, though, that past will creep into his present.

"It's definitely going to be different, maybe a little weird," Lecavalier said.

His longtime Lightning teammates feel the same way.

"It will be weird, there is no doubt," said Martin St. Louis, who played 12 seasons with Lecavalier, winning the Stanley Cup together in 2004.

Lecavalier said he's looking forward to seeing a number of former teammates, while the competitor in him has him looking forward to trying to get the best of players like St. Louis and Teddy Purcell.

"A lot of guys you build relationships with, play a lot of years with them," Lecavalier said. "It's going to be fun."

Lecavalier said he wasn't sure what kind of reaction he'd receive from the fans in Tampa. He's the franchise's all-time leader in goals (383) and games played (1,037), and he's second in assists (491) and points (874).

"I think we've had a lot of good years," Lecavalier said. "I won a Stanley Cup over there. I guess we'll see. I think the fans have been supporting me my whole career over there. I don't think it'll change because I have a different jersey. They've always been good to me and the other players."

Lightning center Nate Thompson, who played parts of four seasons with Lecavalier, said once the game starts, it's just another game.

"It will definitely be strange to play against Vinny. For the past few years, he sat right next to me in the next stall, so it will be strange to see him on the other side," he said. "I think once the game gets going, everything is sort of forgotten. He's on the other team and we're on this team, and I'm sure he will play hard and try to do well against us."


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