Familiar faces on Thrashers await Hawks

Former Blackhawks favorite Dustin Byfuglien has adjusted to life as a Thrasher. Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

ATLANTA -- It’s a game both the Chicago Blackhawks and Atlanta Thrashers circled on their calendars as soon as the schedule was released. Four popular former Blackhawks will skate for the Thrashers when the Hawks visit Philips Arena on Saturday night.

On Friday, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and Andrew Ladd discussed leaving the Blackhawks, Saturday’s matchup and all things Chicago.

What was the first thing you thought of when you were traded over the summer?

Byfuglien: “I was surprised. It was just a couple weeks after we won [the Stanley Cup]. I had to think about it and was kind of sad. After a couple of days thinking about it I was excited and ready for a new challenge.”

Eager: “I wasn’t that surprised, to be honest. I got a text message from a buddy. That was the first person I heard it from. I knew there were going to be changes.”

Ladd: “We knew it was coming. We just didn’t know where. I got excited about the opportunity here in Atlanta and obviously having the three other knuckleheads here already was nice too. It was disappointing to leave Chicago.”

Sopel: “I wasn’t shocked. Obviously when they signed [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane and [Duncan] Keith everyone knew, it was just, ‘who was it going to be?’ It wasn’t a matter of ‘if’, just ‘when’ and ‘who’. I wasn’t too shocked but obviously disappointed. When you win a championship with a team you never want to leave. Plus my wife and kids are still there. A little more devastating for me for that fact.”

The Hawks have sold out every game for nearly three years. How has the transition been going to a team averaging under 10,000 per game?

Byfuglien: “It’s been nice and quiet. Been liking the peace. It’s the way it is around here. We’ll get the ship back in here.”

Eager: “It’s been a bit different. It’s similar to like it was in Chicago a few years ago but they’re making some good steps here. Once we get a good product on the ice, I’m sure the fans will show up and support us.”

Sopel: “You prepare the same way and approach every game the same way, but when you get on the ice and hear 20,000 fans screaming rather than 5,000, obviously there is just a different energy in the building. In Chicago three years ago you couldn’t give a ticket away. We’re that way in Atlanta right now, but a winning team draws good crowds.”

Will you take it easy on your former teammates?

Byfuglien: “I’m on defense now so I [get] to pick and choose. We’ll see. We’ll catch somebody. Anyone that comes over my area, [they] gotta [get checked].”

Eager: “There’s a few guys I wouldn’t mind checking, but I think Kaner,” Eager joked. “He jumped out on a few bar tabs but he always has his head up so he’s tough to catch. But hopefully a couple guys have their heads down.”

Ladd: “I could try to catch Duncs, but I don’t know if I’ll be quick enough to hit him. We’ll see what happens.

Sopel: “There are a few that stiffed me with a bar tab and there were a few practical jokers. [Adam] Burish would have been a prime candidate but he’s gone. You know Kaner always gave me [crap] so he better keep his head up,” Sopel kidded.

Are you surprised by the Hawks’ .500 record?

Eager: “It’s a bit understandable. Maybe it’s a bit of a hangover but I’m sure they’ll come around. They have a lot of great players.”

Sopel: “It’s tough. When you lose nine guys off your roster -- especially these four [Thrashers] -- that’s some big shoes to fill,” Sopel joked. “But with new guys it takes time to get to know each other and jell and understand the systems. You’re not going to go 82-0 and obviously there was the short summer. There are a lot of variables, so I know Chicago fans got to see a very special team last year and it will go down in history in Chicago as one of the best, but they still have a very good team. They will turn it around.”

What restaurant in Chicago misses you the most?

Byfuglien: “I would have to say 50/50 (2047 Division St.) I’m probably saving some money not having me there.”

Eager: “I guess Piazza Bella (2116 W. Roscoe). And the bread there. We used to crush the bread. I miss that place. It was a good spot.”

Ladd: “That’s easy. Joe’s Stone Crabs. I frequent there a lot.”