Matt Duchene is familiar with awkward situations at this point, so he’ll probably feel right at home with another one Friday. The Ottawa Senators forward is set to make his debut against his old team with a pair of games in Sweden as part of the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series.
The first matchup is set for 2 p.m. ET on Friday at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. It will be broadcast live by NHL Network in the U.S.
Yes, the Senators’ first two games after acquiring Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche happen to be against that team. After a year of waiting for the long-awaited trade that finally shipped him away from the only team he’s ever played for, he’s reminded of how small the hockey world can be with a pair of matchups against it.
It will be, as Duchene recently said, quite unusual.
"It's going to be very strange," Duchene said Monday, via NHL.com. "First of all, playing a game in Sweden is strange. Back-to-back is tough and then playing against my former teammates and friends is going to be even weirder. But at the same time, the more I think about it, there's going to be a level of comfort since I played against these guys in practice every day."
The Senators traded forward Kyle Turris, goaltender Andrew Hammond, top prospect Shane Bowers, and a pair of draft picks to the Avalanche to acquire Duchene. After the deal was completed, Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion called it a “no-brainer” and said Duchene “can help us take to the next level.”
That process will begin Friday against the team he played for his first eight-plus seasons. It’s another odd twist in the story of a kid who dreamed of playing for the Avalanche and turned that dream into a reality, only to discover that he wasn’t fitting in as well as he had hoped.
"It's going to be strange to be on the other side," Duchene said. "I'm going to look a little bit weird at first in the different colors, but I think it's a good opportunity to start this off on the right note. There's a little bit of extra motivation to start off well as a team against them for me, and hopefully we have two really good games over there."
Getting off to a hot start with the Senators would be especially sweet against his former team. Through 14 games with the Avalanche this season, Duchene recorded four goals, six assists, and strong underlying numbers. He’s several years removed from putting up 70 points in 71 games as a 23-year-old, but the massive upside is still there if he can blossom in a new environment. The Senators will be treating him as their No. 1 center.
The game will also be notable for the Avalanche debut of one of the key pieces acquired for Duchene: young defenseman Samuel Girard. They’re throwing him into the fire as the top pairing blueliner next to Erik Johnson, according to Mile High Hockey, and will be hoping that a good start from the former Predators prospect will help fans forget about their departed star center.
This was always going to be a unique scene for the Senators and Avalanche playing on the other side of the world at a time when most people in North America are still at their day jobs, but the trade adds a whole new layer to the proceedings. If you happen to have some free time around lunch to tune into some hockey, this should be an interesting afternoon.