CALGARY – It’s the homecoming no one has circled on their calendar.
The return of a man whose hat trick during the Calgary Flames playoffs last spring is considered unofficial given it included a beer in hand and one in each back pocket.
As his brother Matthew toiled below, Brady Tkachuk put on a stirring show of sibling support in the stands that made him a folk hero ’round these parts.
What started with T-shirt tosses outside the Saddledome’s packed Red Lot before Game 7, turned into a never-ending series of hollers and high-fives, topped by the spontaneous hoisting of a stranger’s young child on his shoulders while celebrating Johnny Gaudreau’s overtime winner.
Wearing a “Matthew Tkachuk Friendship Tour” T-shirt, the playful captain of the Ottawa Senators became an honourary Calgarian, while also earning a one-year sponsorship from St. Louis-based Budweiser.
A man of the people.
The stuff of legends.
“He’s expecting a standing ovation in Calgary when he plays there,” joked his dad, Keith, prompting Brady’s mother, Chantal, to chuckle, ahead of his Saddledome return Sunday.
“What he did for that team and organization in Game 7 will never be done again.
“Maybe they’ll have a video tribute for him.”
Cue slow-motion footage of the 23-year-old ascending the stairs in section 118, clinking beer cans and spilling suds with euphoric Flames fans on both sides of the aisle as Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” plays softly in the background.
OK, with all that’s at stake for both teams in Sunday’s showdown, maybe not.
But the rest of us can sure have fun looking back at the type of unguarded personality the NHL needs to see more of.
In a league of beige, the infectious personality of Brady Tkachuk shone on broadcasts from coast-to-coast last April, as the Flames and Oilers provided the only Canadian content in the second round.
He made no apologies for it, as he was careful never to wear Flames gear, and never crossed any lines with his exuberance.
Just a young man having fun with his family, supporting his big bro.
Sportsnet’s Ryan Leslie capped a chat with Brady by saying he looked forward to seeing him sing his signature “Mr. Brightside” in the crowd.
Brady’s response: “Maybe tarps off, you never know.”
It never came to that.
“What was funny was it got a bit too much attention on him – we were worried about that, but Matthew loved it,” said Chantal.
“I saw on Twitter that someone posted a sign outside a business in Calgary and it said, ‘Brady Tkachuk is our spirit animal.’
“I thought that was hysterical.”
Indeed, Matthew got a chuckle out of it, shaking his head and smiling during one game when his brother was shown on the Jumbotron.
“After Game 7, we got dropped off as we were going to meet the whole team, and we were walking down the street – Me, Chantal, Matthew and Brady – and a kid comes around the corner and sees us and he’s like, ‘Brady Tkachuk!!!’” said Keith, laughing.
“Matthew is right there in his suit, but the kid was only interested in Brady.
“We knew we had to get him out of town.”
He left after the Flames’ Game 2 loss to Edmonton – the beginning of the end for the Flames, who lost the series in five games, lost Matthew and Gaudreau in the summer, and haven’t recovered since.
Everyone has moved on, including Brady.
“I was probably their biggest fan for the last couple years, but not anymore,” Brady told Leslie to open the Flames’ broadcast in Ottawa last month.
“It’s weird seeing all the guys I met over the years, but now they’re the enemy.
“We had a good run.”
Pausing, hockey’s Mr. Brightside flashed a big grin before confirming the playful expectations his parents alluded to were indeed on his mind.
“Hopefully get a video tribute after that one.”