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Look Who's Back: Jay Bouwmeester in South Florida

Bocalgary

Not much going on right now, what with GM Randy Sexton in Rochester and the Panthers not playing for a few days.

The big news around town is the return of Jay Bouwmeester.

'Big Bo' returns to the BankAtlantic Center on Friday night for the first time since he played his final game there with the Panthers on April 11, 2009.

Bouwmeester refused to sign a long-term deal with the Panthers and, in June, was traded to Calgary where he almost immediately signed a five-year pact with the Flames.

One of the reasons Bouwmeester wanted out of Florida was because of the lack of passion that exists for hockey in the sunny south.

In Calgary, the hockey team is the biggest thing going. Teammates in Florida weren't exactly surprised when he left after seven years with the franchise.

“I'm used to playing with him, not against him, but when the game starts, that's out the door,'' said Stephen Weiss, Bouwmeester's teammate since 2002. “We'll get our hellos in before the game, but then it's all business. We were pretty close. We came here at about the same time, spent a lot of time in the early years together. We became pretty close buddies.''

Said coach Pete DeBoer: “I think we're going to see the best of Bo here. He's going to be skating with the puck, moving and jumping into the play. When he's at the top of his game, he's hard to handle.''

Yet when the Flames struggle, it's not much fun to be playing in Calgary. On Wednesday, the Flames won for just the third time in 15 games. General manager Darryl Sutter made two big trades in the past week, trading All-Star defenseman Dion Phaneuf to Toronto and former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen to the Rangers.

When Bouwmeester was with the Panthers and they were struggling – which was often – no big deal. In Calgary?

“There are obviously differences between the two places, but honestly this has been good,'' said Bouwmeester. “I knew what I was getting into. People are pretty passionate about their hockey up here and they take some pride in the team. If you are doing well, it affects the city in a good way. They take pride in their hockey here. There's an obvious interest.''

Bouwmeester hasn't been the player the Flames had hoped for on the offensive end – and he's starting to feel the heat for it. Bouwmeester scored 15 goals in each of the past two seasons with the Panthers. Through 57 games this season, he has two. Bouwmeester says he's not letting the criticism affect his game.

“This year has brought a lot of ups and downs,'' said Bouwmeester, who faced the Panthers this preseason in Calgary. “The offensive side of things haven't gone the way I would have liked. That's been the case for a lot of guys around here. It's one of those things where take it a day at a time. I want to bring success, but it's been a little bit hard to come by.

Jordan Leopold, who came to the Panthers from Calgary in the summertime trade, says it's hard to shield yourself from criticism in a Canadian hockey market. There were a lot of expectations for the Flames this season – many preseason publications had them as a Stanley Cup contender from the west – and now the team is struggling just to make the playoffs.

The Flames beat Carolina 4-1 on Wednesday to give them two wins in their past three – albeit against two of the worst teams in the league. Friday's game in Sunrise kicks off a three-game road trip, a stint away from home that may be welcomed.

For Bouwmeester, this is just another road game for him. He never put down roots in South Florida and seemed like he couldn't wait to get out of town during the offseason. This region isn't for everyone – and it definitely wasn't to Bouwmeester's liking. A native of Edmonton, Bouwmeester has found his way home although he says he does have a number of fond memories of his time with the Panthers.

“I don't really have too many expectations of what's going to happen,'' he said. “We're going to play a game and move on. I'm not really treating it as a big deal. There are some people I'd like to see, sure, but we're not there for very long. It won't be a big distraction.''

BOOTH UP FRONT

David Booth was back on Florida's top line as early as the second period on Monday. He'll start Friday's game there as well, reunited with Weiss at center. This will be Booth's third game back from a 45 game absence because of a concussion.

The Panthers hope the revamped top line will create some offensive production. Both Weiss and Michael Frolik have struggled of late. Weiss has one goal in nine games; Frolik one in 11.

“I don't think there's any doubt we have a couple of guys who need to find their offensive game,'' DeBoer said of a team that has nine goals in eight games. “We have to make sure we're giving those guys an opportunity, but it's not a job for life on that line. If you don't produce, you might want to give other people a chance.''

MORE BO ON OLLI

The Flames are a much different team today than they were a few days ago. Gone is Phaneuf as well as Jokinen.

"This is one of those things where we're in it as a team,'' Bouwmeester said about the Flames' struggles.

"It's not one guy doing his thing on his own. With all these changes and stuff, I think on paper, we're good from a forward standpoint. We have a whole bunch of forwards, lot of depth there. We hope to start clicking right away. Get off and running.

"You don't really think about those [trades] too much. The way it went down with the rumors and it finally happened lad night, had everyone on edge. This time a week ago, no, not worrying about that kind of thing. I think it was a roller coaster for [Olli], not knowing what was going on.

"I saw him last night when he was leaving. He would have liked to stay, but he realized the situation. He's getting a fresh start.''

-- And for those of you who don't like reading about Bo and Olli, here's a little something for you. I wrote this in the summer when the Panthers visited Calgary.

It's obvious Jokinen still has a soft spot in his heart for the Panthers. And he can't wait to return to Sunrise for the first time since being traded away when Calgary visits on Feb. 5.

''They had a good run last year and hopefully this year they can make the playoffs this year,'' said Jokinen, who spent most of the summer with his wife Katerina and their daughters at their Broward County home.

''I especially wish that for the fans in South Florida. They deserve to see playoff hockey. They have been very supportive all these years. The Panthers came close, hopefully they take that extra step. .-.-. In February, it'll be a lot of fun there. It'll be strange being on the other side.''

FRIDAY: FLAMES AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WAXY-790

The series: Calgary leads 11-6-3

The game: The Flames are making just their third appearance in Sunrise since 2002. The Panthers have gotten three of four points in the previous two home games. Calgary has won two of three – although those wins were against Edmonton and Carolina. The Flames have won just three of their past 15 (3-9-3). Thanks to a couple of trades, the Flames will have eight fairly new faces in the lineup. Tomas Vokoun will start in net Friday and likely again Saturday in Atlanta.

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