What better way to snap a losing streak than to do it against your former team?
Flyers forward Cam Atkinson posed the question right before hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that drafted him and he spent the last 10 years with, for the first time. His new team is in the middle of a nine-game skid, but Atkinson said he’ll be bringing his A-game, and he knows his current teammates will back him up.
The Blue Jackets are well aware of what they’ll be facing. Atkinson is known as a high-energy player, but coach Brad Larsen expects there to be extra “pep in his step” Thursday night. While they know Atkinson’s tendencies very well, Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski doesn’t think that will factor into the game. But he welcomes the chance to compete against someone he looked up to and was close with.
“I’m sure he’s going to have a little more jump tomorrow, try to score a goal against us, and we should be excited to try and stop that,” Werenski said Wednesday.
Thursday morning, during the Flyers’ morning skate, there was a constant stream of Blue Jackets coming down the tunnel to greet Atkinson and watch him practice. Larsen, who coached Atkinson his first year in the minors as well as for the Blue Jackets, stopped by the bench to chat.
While it was good to see his former team, Atkinson said he doesn’t think the emotions will really hit him until the first few shifts of the game. But he imagines going back to Columbus will be even more emotional.
Atkinson ranks second in Blue Jackets history in games played (627), goals (213), and points (402) but his impact went far beyond the ice. Over his 10 years in Columbus, Atkinson became embedded in the community. He opened the Battery Hockey Academy there and became close with the Blue Jacket fan group, The Fifth Line.
“The community itself, we love Columbus,” Atkinson said. “We plan on living in Columbus when I’m done playing hockey.”
The trade, which sent Jakub Voráček to Columbus for Atkinson, came as a surprise to Atkinson and his teammates. Werenski recalled he was eating breakfast following a bachelor party and saw it on Twitter. He thought it was a joke, so he called Atkinson, only to be told it was true.
Atkinson had been at a draft party the night before and was getting ready to host his son Declan’s third birthday party when he found out. He was “shell-shocked.”
“I guess that’s the only thing that I guess I didn’t appreciate is I wish they would have given me a little more of a heads up,” Atkinson said. “But there’s no bad blood at all. Business is business.”
Luckily, the trade happened in the summer, which gave Atkinson time to move himself and his family to Philadelphia. He also had former Flyer Scott Hartnell, his former teammate with Columbus, to help him with the move, as well as Hartnell’s wife, who is best friends with Atkinson’s wife. The transition to Philadelphia has gone smoothly. Atkinson believes everything happens for a reason, which he has also said when expressing his gratitude that he’s been able to support Flyers teammate Kevin Hayes through his brother Jimmy’s death.
“I think I was born to wear the Flyers jersey,” Atkinson said. “I couldn’t be more excited to join this organization and the history. They’ve taken me in with open arms. And I love putting on that Flyers jersey.”
Brassard’s back but in black
When the Flyers hit the ice for morning skate Thursday, everyone who was expected to be present was — with the addition of one new face.
While his teammates skated around in their orange practice jerseys, forward Derick Brassard, who has been out with a hip injury, buzzed around in a black jersey. He took shots and did sprints but didn’t participate in any contact drills.
Interim coach Mike Yeo said when they talked afterward, Brassard said he was feeling good and thought he might be able to start working on “stops and starts, which would be a really good step.” Brassard put in some extra work after morning skate, as well. Yeo said he’s “itching to play.”
“But we also have to make sure that we put him in a good position where when he comes back that he feels good about his game,” Yeo said. “And we put him in a position where he can come back and stay in the lineup.”
Brassard has returned twice only to be injured again following both returns.
Brassard also played for the Blue Jackets, where he became friends with Atkinson.
The Flyers host the Columbus Blue Jackets at home for a 7 p.m. game Thursday. The Blue Jackets have one more point than them in the Metropolitan Division standings. ... Carter Hart will start in goal.