TAMPA — When Lightning forward Brandon Hagel takes the ice Friday night against the Blackhawks, he will have to call some of his best friends opponents for the first time.
Two weeks ago Friday, the Lightning acquired the 23-year-old from Chicago in a deal that sent two first-round draft picks and rookie forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk to the Blackhawks. Chicago was the only NHL organization for which Hagel had played, and the trade was jarring.
Hagel is still getting adjusted to new teammates, a new system and different responsibilities, so playing against his former team for the first time will be strange.
“I thought it was always difficult when you play against former teammates,” said Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern, who was traded twice during the season in his 14-year NHL career. “You want to be as mean and fearsome and as competitive as possible, and sometimes when your really good friends are across the ice, (it’s difficult).”
Halpern pointed to the Lightning’s home game against the Rangers on March 19, when defenseman Victor Hedman put a fierce shoulder-to-chest hit on New York’s Barclay Goodrow, a former Lightning forward who signed with the Rangers in the offseason. The two laughed about it moments later.
“(That’s) because they’re such good friends,” Halpern said. “So, I don’t think it’s easy. I think that washes away over time as well, and it’s depending on the game, but there is an added component of it.”
When Hagel was traded, he talked about the difficulty of leaving friends behind in Chicago but how his focus had to shift quickly to adapting to a new team focused on another deep postseason run.
“I’m just kind of trying to stick to my game,” Hagel said during the Lightning’s just-completed road trip. “But also, I’ve got to learn how other guys play and what they are and stuff like that. I played all over the map in Chicago. I was used to those guys. I knew when I was playing with them, what they wanted me to do, how I needed to play when I was with them.
“It’s kind of switched up, so I’m just kind of learning those things. … It’s not just going come just like that. Sometimes it’s frustrating at points, but I’m just trying to stay levelheaded. I know that everything’s going to fall into place.”
Raddysh and Katchouk also will play for the first time against the only organization they knew, and former Lightning forward Tyler Johnson will play his first game as an opponent at Amalie Arena. Johnson, traded by Tampa Bay to Chicago in the offseason for salary cap relief, played against the Lightning on March 6 in Chicago.
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“I guess it all depends on how you broke up,” said Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian, who played his first game in Buffalo this season after an acrimonious split with the Sabres two seasons ago. “It’s nice to see familiar faces, I guess, but it’s a little different when you’re on the road playing against your former team and when you’re at home. It’s kind of a little more natural to you, but I don’t think too many guys put too much thought into it.”
When Bogosian saw his playing time diminish in Buffalo after returning from an injury, he requested a trade. Instead, he was sent to the minors. He didn’t report, allowing the Sabres to terminate his contract and making him a free agent.
Bogosian then signed with the Lightning and was a key piece of the first of the organization’s back-to-back Stanley Cup championship teams. He played his first game in Buffalo as an opposing player Jan. 11, a game Tampa Bay won 6-1.
“I know it wasn’t a good breakup,” Bogosian said, smirking. “It was good to get the win.”
NOTE: The Lightning signed defenseman Nick Perbix to a one-year, entry-level contract, the team announced Thursday. Perbix, drafted by Tampa Bay in the sixth round in 2017, just finished his senior season at St. Cloud State, where he set career highs in goals (six), assists (25) and points (31). The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder will finish this season with AHL Syracuse on an amateur tryout contract.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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