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Dany Heatley returns to Ottawa: Why it won’t be the hate-fest you expected

Dec 2, 2010, 11:48 AM EDT

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While LeBron James and his “homecoming” to Cleveland is going to get more than its fair share of attention today, there’s another homecoming of sorts with a huge potential for ugliness in the NHL tonight. Over a year ago, Dany Heatley made it abundantly clear that he didn’t want to be an Ottawa Senator anymore and demanded a trade out of Canada’s capital city. The Senators tried to move him to Edmonton only to have Heatley nix the deal. San Jose came calling with a package of players centering around Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo and with that, Heatley was off to California.

With the NHL schedule being as goofy as it is, it’s only now a full season later that Heatley is making his less-than triumphant return to Ottawa and if you think the Senators fans have forgotten about how Heatley demanded his way out of town, you’re lying to yourself. The fans are going to boo, they’re going to say a lot of things, and they’re going to be on him every time he touches the puck and Heatley knows it’s coming.

“As (the Ottawa game has) gotten closer, I know it’s been coming,” Heatley told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’ve gone into rinks like that before and I expect much of the same as Edmonton or Atlanta the first time.”

Told he was going to be booed, Heatley said it won’t bother him: “That’s fine. One boo or however many boos, it’s all the same to me.”

If you’re expecting things to be similar to the way LeBron James is going to be treated in Cleveland, however, you might want to slow things down a bit. The harshest stuff that Heatley will likely see comes from Ottawa Sun newspaper. No, not from their writers Don Brennan or Bruce Garrioch, but from the guys bored enough to do crude work on a Heatley photograph for the front page of the paper.

Being a guy that’s done many crude Photoshops himself, even this one doesn’t really do the trick for me, this probably took all of about two minutes to do. If you’re going to go, go big.

That stuff aside, Erin Nicks, a former Sun writer in her own right, had this to say today on Puck Daddy as to why Heatley’s return won’t be as vicious as you’d hope for in this situation and it’s because of the fans.

Sure, there will be booing at the game, and there’s something called the “Heatley Hate Fest” taking place at a downtown pub this afternoon. But try as they might, Sens fans remain a largely placid bunch, even when they’re ticked off about something.

Speaking from experience, I attended Alexei Yashin’s first game back in the capital as an Islander, and while there was venom to be had, it was still tempered by Ottawans’ typically quiet nature.

Recent history always rings louder, but over the course of the modern club’s history, the Alexei Yashin drama does — and always will — trump anything involving Dany Heatley.

Well if they didn’t bury Yashin, then Heatley’s got it made tonight, even in the face of not having a regret about how he handled things and the way he got out of town. As for how other Ottawa players are going to do things on the ice, about the only guy Heatley’s concerned about is caged animal and occasional enforcer Chris Neil getting a shot at him.

Senators fans should be more concerned about other things though. Their team is coming off a bad loss to the Oilers and Heatley is riding into town on a bit of a hot streak with five goals in his last four games. If the Sens loss to Edmonton is indicative of future troubles, Heatley’s return to Ottawa could turn out to be especially infuriating. Perhaps that’s why there’s still over 1,000 tickets available for tonight’s game.

While this homecoming won’t be as hate-filled as the one going on in Cleveland, this one lends itself to a bit more curious intrigue only because it’s been so long and time does heal all wounds. Ottawa has had a chance to get a full year under their belt and the Senators did well in making the playoffs last year.

Heatley’s departure from Ottawa didn’t leave the place to be a smoldering crater filled with failure the way James’ classless and disgusting ego-driven exit from Cleveland did. Still, these sorts of events make for the best drama and how things play out on the ice tonight will be fun to watch.

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