DETROIT, MI -- Jiri Hudler is exceptionally familiar with the halls of Joe Louis Arena. He's spent countless hours on the ice, in the gym and in the Red Wings locker room. He knows the majority of the building like the back of his hand.
But he has never been acquainted with the visitors dressing room. Until today.
This morning, he made his first trip back to Detroit since signing with the Flames as a free agent last July.
"I have a lot of great memories in this building and with the guys on the other side," the former Red Wing said after practice. "It's going to be special."
Detroit drafted the forward in the second round of the 2002 NHL Draft and he went on to play 409 games in a Red Wings jersey. He netted 87 goals and 214 points through his tenure in Michigan and won a Stanley Cup with the club in 2008.
Suffice to say, tonight isn't an average game for Hudler.
"Those guys against me today, those are my friends, my ex-teammates ... Obviously, I don’t want to lose against them."
After Detroit's skate this morning, Hudler's old teammates sent praise his way and noted how odd it be to see him on the opposition's bench tonight.
"It's good to see him doing well," Detroit forward Cory Emmerton said. "It looks like he's adjusting well in Calgary. Obviously he's a great player and we've got to worry about stopping him tonight and not being his friend."
Red Wings starting netminder Jimmy Howard is expecting to see a whole lot of Hudler tonight, complimenting the Czech on his presence in the offensive zone and his playmaking abilities.
"I think it's a very underestimated part of his game - how well he finds the open guys out there. We're going to have to be aware of when the puck is on his stick because he can find guys in tough spots."
Prior to the 2013 season starting, Hudler's father passed away and he immediately returned to Czech Republic. The 29 year-old missed training camp and the first three games of the season as he dealt with family matters.
He jumped into the lineup on Jan. 26, a home date against the Edmonton Oilers, and posted his first point as a Flame in the 4-3 victory.
Hudler scored his first goal in Calgary silks the following contest, on route to the three-point night against the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 31. He also picked up an assist on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Given the circumstances, to see him come in and play so dominantly is spectacular in Flames head coach Bob Hartley's eyes.
"Unbelievable," the bench boss said with a shake of his head. "The passing of his dad and having to go back home, take care of the funeral, take care of all of the paper work, everything. Then Jiri comes right back, in the lineup, and he has been a force for us.
"I have so much respect. I knew him as a player and now I know him as a player and as a man. I'm very, very impressed with Jiri Hudler."
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