It’s been a while since a goal at the Scotiabank Saddledome got the type of ovation that Jonathan Huberdeau received when he put the Flames up 4-1 on Thursday night.
Overtime winners always get the crowd out of their seats and going wild, of course.
But the reaction to Huberdeau was something different, and not because it essentially finished off the Vancouver Canucks.
You could see it in Mikael Backlund’s spirited hug. You could see it when Nikita Zadorov skated to the bench after the next whistle to give Huberdeau a little belated embrace.
And you could definitely feel it when the fans at the Dome roared in unison as Beesley’s voice boomed out of the speaker system announcing Huberdeau as the goal scorer.
It was as if the Calgary crowd wanted to let the struggling winger know, ‘Hey, we know it hasn’t been easy, but it’s OK. We’ve got you. Keep working and we have your back.’
The reaction did not go unnoticed by Huberdeau.
“Just take it in,” Huberdeau said post-game. “It’s nice to get that support from the crowd. They’ve been patient.”
A lot of ink has been spilled about Huberdeau’s struggles since he was traded to the Flames by the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2022. He quickly signed an eight-year, $84-million contract, but his on-ice production plummeted once he actually laced up his skates for the Flames.
Is there frustration about the way he’s played? No doubt.
But it’s always felt like that’s been tempered by a sense of sympathy. Nobody’s accused Huberdeau of slacking off or not caring, and while this is purely anecdotal, it does seem like fans are still rooting for him to find a way out of his slump and find a little confidence again.
Not just because that would help the Flames as a team, either, but because there seems to be a general respect for how Huberdeau has held himself accountable and continued to grind away to try to find solutions.
“I thought it was cool,” Flames head coach Ryan Huska said when he was asked about the ovation. “We have great fans here and what they do recognize is hard work.
“You could see that from him tonight, so when he gets rewarded, it was nice. And it goes a long ways for a player that is really working to find his way. So we’re all happy for him, it was good to see him score.”
Huberdeau hadn’t put a puck in the net in 11 games prior to Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. He’d been moved to the third line to play alongside Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman, ostensibly for the purpose of simplifying his game as he looks to regain his confidence.
One goal isn’t going to suddenly fix everything that’s ailing him, of course, but there were other encouraging signs, too. In the dying minutes, Huberdeau made a heads-up defensive play to intercept a Canucks pass and send Elias Lindholm down ice for a game-sealing empty-netter.
Huberdeau’s goal, which came from a tight angle, was the emotional crescendo of the evening, but it was far from the only positive piece of his game.
“It’s awesome, it’s great. It was a nice goal, too,” said Flames teammate Dillon Dube, who also scored Thursday. “I know it’s an empty-net goal, but Hubey had a huge play at the end when he blocked that pass and got it to Lindy. So all-round, he had a really good night.”
The hope now is that Huberdeau can use Thursday’s performance as a springboard for more of the same.
He’s still only got nine points in 16 games and is a minus-11 on the season and the Flames need more from him night-in and night-out.
But for a guy who has talked about being low on confidence and needing to get his swagger back to truly return to the best version of himself on the ice, a night like Thursday can only help.
And hearing the love from nearly 20,000 fans goes a long way, too.
“It’s one game, but I think it’s huge for me to take this one and take it into the next game,” Huberdeau said. “I think, you saw with the ovation after the goal being 4-1. I think Calgary is a great city, compared to other markets, (the fans) are supporting me. Sometimes I see people and they want me to get going, obviously, it’s nice to see.”