By the time the Flyers reach their final drill of pregame warmups in Columbus, Ohio, Cam Atkinson isn’t sure there will be any pucks left on the ice. He may have thrown them all over the glass by then.
On Thursday, Atkinson made his first return to Nationwide Arena since he was traded to the Flyers last July. His foundation, the Battery Hockey Academy, bought over 100 tickets for its members to buy to celebrate the event. They sold out in 10 minutes.
Atkinson expects the kids from the academy will be rocking their Battery jerseys, and he knows they’ll be asking for pucks. Atkinson happily will oblige, even if it means his team may have to go without.
“I’m going to be throwing every single puck over the boards,” Atkinson said with a grin.
The kids won’t be the only ones repping Atkinson. Walking over from the hotel, Atkinson said he saw plenty of people wearing his jersey. When he arrived, he was greeted warmly by people around the arena, from the security guards to all those who are “behind the scenes that go unnoticed that had such a big impact on my life.”
Atkinson was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and was part of the organization until this season. He was a two-time All-Star, an alternate captain, and ranks second in Blue Jackets history in games played (627), goals (213) and points (402).
Since joining the Flyers organization, Atkinson has become a core part of the locker room. Interim coach Mike Yeo said at first Atkinson was hesitant to take the lead since he didn’t want to step on toes. Now, he has earned the respect of all his teammates through his conduct both on and off the ice. He’s the team’s leader in points (50), and he wore the A temporarily while Scott Laughton was injured.
“He’s an amazing leader,” Morgan Frost said. “I mean, for me, he’s someone that I can definitely look up to. He’s honestly just a really great guy. Special player.”
Atkinson has had the chance to play his former team twice so far, but both times were in Philadelphia. He described himself as a “sensitive guy” and said he’s not sure what he’ll feel Thursday night in Columbus, but he hopes having already played his former teammates earlier in the season will make it easier.
After arriving Wednesday in Columbus, Atkinson had dinner with a good friend and saw center Jack Roslovic. Although the Flyers didn’t have morning skate, he popped his head in at the Blue Jackets’ and said hello. He also laughed with his current teammates about how weird it is that he’s never stepped foot in the visiting locker room in Columbus.
“I didn’t even know where the showers were, the trainers’ room,” Atkinson said. “So, yeah, I will say it’s a nice locker room, a nice away visiting locker room.”
Atkinson is trying to soak in every single moment of being back in Columbus. While his wife, Natalie, and kids weren’t able to come with him, he will have many others supporting him in the stands and on the ice. The Flyers have played his team twice and lost both times. They want to get him at least one and make this special day even more so.
“I think he’ll give everyone a little extra motivation,” Frost said. “He’s so well-liked and so well-respected. Like I said, we definitely want to get this one for him.”
Hopefully, once he finally steps onto the ice again at Nationwide Arena, he’ll be greeted with cheers and not boos, Atkinson joked.
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to be cheers,” Frost said, laughing.
Tweaking the game plan
Although the Flyers lost to the Blue Jackets 4-2 on Tuesday, they played well. They outshot the Blue Jackets 49-30 and controlled the pace.
“But when you don’t get the win, we’ve got to find a way to do some things better,” Yeo said.
Thursday night, they will look to be better through the neutral zone and will fight to get in behind the Blue Jackets. They’ll also look to be aware of Columbus’ “active D.”
Yeo also switched up the lineup. He shuffled the top three forward lines and brought Kevin Connauton in for Keith Yandle on defense.
The Flyers play the Blue Jackets at 7 p.m. Thursday. ... Martin Jones will be in goal. ... Oskar Lindblom and Atkinson, both of whom had maintenance days Wednesday, will play.