- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Vincent Lecavalier hit the pillow in familiar surroundings Tuesday night.
"Yeah, I'm going to sleep at the house," he said, on the eve of his first game back against his former team.
In a week in which Daniel Alfredsson is slated to return to Ottawa on the weekend, Lecavalier's return date against the Lightning has brought back a flood of memories for him. He was 18 when the Lightning made him the first overall pick in the 1998 NHL draft, so he's spent a big chunk of his adult life in Tampa. In a lot of ways, it was home to him. And still is.
"Almost 50 percent of my life, I've been here," Lecavalier, 33, told ESPN.com. "After a season, I would also go back home to Montreal, but then back home to Tampa in September. Montreal and Tampa both feel the same to me, both feel like home."
Don't get him wrong; he loves his new surroundings in Philly too, describing a great vibe in the Flyers' locker room and encouraged by the team's recent play as to what lies ahead for them. But Wednesday night, well, that's going to be different. This is the ice on which he lifted the Stanley Cup in 2004. This is the rink in which he grew up as an NHL star. This is the community in which he grew up as a person.
"I think it's going to be great, I'm excited about it. It's nice to be back here," he said. "Obviously had a lot of great memories here. I spent 14-15 years here. It was a little weird [Tuesday] stepping on the ice for practice. But I'll be ready for the game."
Will he be ready to face his old pal Martin St. Louis? Two-thirds of the trio with Brad Richards during their heyday under John Tortorella, Lecavalier and St. Louis shared so much together. Facing off for the first time, well ...
"That's going to be weird," Lecavalier said, finishing my sentence. "Even in practice when we'd battle against each other, we couldn't stop laughing; it was funny for some reason. It's just been so much fun playing all those years with him. But come game time Wednesday night, it's different. It's going to be a battle against a good team. I'm going to play hard against him, and I'm sure he's going to do the same against me. I'm excited to play against him and I guess see the other side of him."
Lecavalier showed the other side of himself as well during his 15 years in Tampa. He was generous with his time and money via the Vinny Lecavalier Foundation, raising funds for all kinds of causes, including the battle against pediatric cancer. In December 2009, Lecavalier cut the ribbon at the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at the All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, having helped fund $3 million for the project. Tampa columnist Tom Jones captured it best in July after Lecavalier was bought out.
"We're still involved here with my foundation," Lecavalier said Tuesday. "Obviously, a lot of the events we used to do during the season here, we can't do right now. But the foundation is still there. My plan as of right now after I'm done with hockey is to come back and be in Tampa."
He never thought he'd leave, of course. Back in the summer of 2008, when Lecavalier signed an 11-year, $85 million extension that kicked in for the 2009-10 season, the longtime captain of the Lighting figured he'd never have to negotiate another deal again. Imagine his surprise on that day in July 2008 had someone shown him a crystal ball with his summer 2013 buyout in it.
"No not at all; obviously when I signed that deal my plan was to finish my career here," he said. "Obviously, things change. It was a tough summer for that. I had to move on but I'm happy things went quickly. I was part of the Philadelphia Flyers like four days after the buyout from Tampa. That was nice."
The Flyers, after a horrid start, are back on track, Lecavalier with 13 points (8-5) in 19 games.
"Obviously that start, it certainly wasn't what we wanted," Lecavalier said, chuckling. "But we're playing good hockey now, we need to keep it going, it's all about confidence and we have that right now. The one thing about this locker room, the guys are hungry to win. There's a strong work ethic in here. I think we're going to have a good season."
The words are spoken from a man who clearly sounds like he's moved on, but hasn't forgotten, either.
Vincent Lecavalier's return to Tampa will be bittersweet.