It’s always tough leaving friends behind, even if your profession at times requires it.
Noah Hanifin did that, after the defenseman was traded in June from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Calgary Flames. Hanifin and Brett Pesce were tight, and Hanifin was close with others in the Canes’ young defensive corps.
“You form really good bonds with guys and then you never know,” Hanifin said Monday. “Some day you get traded or moved. That’s the tough part of the business.”
They’ve gone their separate ways this season, in different conferences, never bumping heads, but that will change Tuesday. The Canes, in the second game of their Canadian road trip, face the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Canes (23-20-5) will be looking to build off their 7-4 win Sunday over the Edmonton Oilers. As for the Flames (32-13-5), they’re streaky good, going 10-1-2 since Christmas, leading the Pacific Division and holding the best record in the Western Conference.
Bill Peters, in four years as the Hurricanes coach, never reached the Stanley Cup playoffs -- one reason he’s no longer with the Hurricanes. But he has the Flames well on their way in his first year in Calgary and has done it with three of his former Carolina players -- Hanifin and forwards Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan.
“It’s been different for sure,” Hanifin said in an interview. “Obviously playing in Canada and being in a different division and all that, new team, new players, it has been a big change but it’s gone smoothly. It’s been awesome.
“It’s pretty crazy here. They worship hockey in Canada. The fans are passionate and supportive. It’s a good group of guys here. And obviously I’m familiar with the coach, with Bill.”
Peters was named the Flames coach two months before the trade that brought Hanifin and Lindholm to Calgary. There was no guesswork for the players about learning different systems or adjusting to the whims of a new head coach for Hanifin, Lindholm and Ryan, a free-agent signee.
“We know what he’s about, we know the way he wants to play, know his drills at practice,” Hanifin said. “It’s similar to the style of play we had in Carolina. He’s done a great job getting our team playing the right way.”
Peters took a puck to the chin behind the bench during a late-November game, requiring eight stitches to close the gash. Other than that, all has gone well.
When the trade was made during the NHL Draft in Dallas, the initial consensus was the Canes had gotten the better end of it in receiving defenseman Dougie Hamilton, power forward Micheal Ferland and defensive prospect Adam Fox for Hanifin and Lindholm, both former first-round picks by the Canes.
Had Hanifin and Lindholm been able to reach an accord with Canes management and owner Tom Dundon on new contracts, one of both could still be with Carolina. Instead, the two were dealt and now have signed long-term deals with the Flames -- Hanifin a six-year extension worth $4.95 million a year and Lindholm a six-year deal at $4.85 million a year.
“I was a little shocked because I didn’t know going to Calgary was a possibility or hear anything about it,” Hanifin said of the trade. “But I knew there could be a shakeup in the (Canes) lineup and anything was possible. It took me a week or two to settle in but it was all right after that, and Elias and I were happy we’d be going with each other. That made it smoother.”
Lindholm, playing on the top line with dynamic winger Johnny Gaudreau and center Sean Monahan, is having a huge breakout season. His 21 goals, 36 assists and 57 points are career highs -- in 50 games -- and the Swede has five game-winners.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Hanifin said. “You could see at Carolina what he’s capable of. He’s such a smart player, a good two-way guy who plays so good defensively. And obviously had a lot of skill, as well.”
One of those players who has a wickedly good shot, Lindholm, 24, couldn’t seem to find the net with the Canes. He’s shooting 17.8 percent with the Flames.
“He, for whatever reason, was snakebit a little bit,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday. “You throw him in (in Calgary) and he’s playing with arguably one of the best players in the game. We didn’t have that for him. He could always shoot the puck, always could make plays. It was a good landing spot for him.”
Gaudreau has 29 goals and 44 assists and Monahan 27 goals and 34 assists. Add in Lindholm and three have combined for 23 power-play goals. “They’re really clicking,” Hanifin said.
And Hanifin, who turns 22 on Friday, has found a good defensive fit with Travis Hamonic, forming a consistent, dependable second pairing behind Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie.
“Travis is a good veteran guy,” Hanifin said. “He’s so solid defensively. We really communicate well on and off the ice and I think that helps our chemistry quite a bit. He was traded from New York (Islanders) and went through a similar thing and he helped me out in that aspect.. It’s been a good partnership, for sure.”
It shows in Hanifin’s play. In his fourth NHL season, he’s averaging 21 minutes of ice time per game, has four goals and 21 assists, and a plus-11 rating
Hanifin said he planned to get together Monday night with Pesce and Canes defenseman Justin Faulk, talk things over. Then it’s back to business.
“It’s going to be a little strange, for sure, playing against my old buddies,” Hanifin said.