BELLEVILLE, Ont. – Eric Tangradi got emotional when he finished his final home game with the Belleville Bulls.
“I kind of left with a tear in my eye thinking I would never see it again, maybe just to watch,” he said.
More than four years later, Tangradi and other former Belleville Bulls returned to Yardmen Arena for Saturday’s pre-season game between the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals.
“I’m one lucky man to be here,” said Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who played for the Bulls in 2008-09 and 2009-10. “In the summer I saw the schedule and saw that Washington was playing in Belleville and I was like ‘Oh man, I got to play there,’ and today I’m here.”
Jets goaltender Edward Pasquale and forward Austen Brassard also spent time in Belleville, while Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele and Washington’s Tom Wilson and Connor Carrick played at Yardmen Arena while in the OHL. Being back engendered some conflicting memories.
“The best memory would be (2008 when) we went to the Memorial Cup, for sure,” Tangradi said. “The same year we lost in Game 7 (in the OHL final) after coming back from down 3-0 against Kitchener. That was a kind of a bittersweet playoff run we had there.
“But you see where some of those guys went on to play in the NHL, and the teammates and the friends we’ve all gained from that season has been something remarkable.”
The Jets and Capitals were playing in Belleville as part of the NHL’s Hockeyville event hosted by the nearby town of Stirling-Rawdon. Having a handful of OHL alumni around made for a reunion of sorts.
That included some smack talk from Scheifele, whose Barrie Colts eliminated the Bulls in last year’s playoffs.
“I’ve kind of been in Brasser’s ear a little bit about Game 7 the last time we were here and giving to Tango a little bit just for being a Belleville player,” Scheifele said. “It’s good to be back here.”
For Tangradi and Grubauer, it was a chance to reflect.
“The one year we were pretty good and second year we were in last place,” Grubauer said of his time in Belleville. “But being behind Mike Murphy and playing with P.K. (Subban) and Tangradi was awesome for me in my first year. I learned a lot from that. Going into my second year I played a lot and moving on to Windsor and winning the Cup there, lots of experience for me and lots of memories I look back to.”
Tangradi used the morning skate to take in the atmosphere and clear his head.
“Just tons of memories,” he said. “My first thought, actually, was I don’t remember it being this big. A lot of guys were just shocked how big the ice surface was. I just remember being back here and just having some good teams and a lot of good playoff runs.”
Carrick, who spent last season with the Plymouth Whalers, played only one game at Yardmen Arena but remembered the overtime loss. It’s certainly a place that sticks out, even compared to other OHL arenas.
“It’s got some character to it,” Carrick said. “It’s not as glitzy and glamorous as some of the other rinks, and I kind of like that. A little bit of character in the rink, a little bit of tradition.”
Leave it to Tangradi to soak up that tradition and pass along his knowledge to teammates. He had dinner at his billet parents’ house Friday night and then played tour guide.
“I actually took the guys out to a little local spot that we used to go to when I was playing here,” Tangradi said. “I like to consider myself a little bit Canadian. I come back in this town and am showing Canadian boys around a Canadian city, so I thought that was kind of unique.”