It was a big change for Nick Ritchie, suddenly scrambling to pack his stuff and hustling to join his new team.
Ditto for his older brother Brett, who was headed the opposite direction.
And what about for their proud parents? How did they react to Friday’s news that their sons would be trading places in the first sibling-for-sibling swap in NHL history?
“They get to watch the same teams,” quipped Nick, now employed by the Calgary Flames. “So not much changes for them, I guess.”
Question is, will Paul and Tammy be watching one of their boys in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs?
It won’t be Brett. The Arizona Coyotes are still in rebuild mode, fingers crossed for a little luck in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.
The Flames are not claiming to be in ideal position, but they remain a factor in the Western Conference wildcard race. While general manager Brad Treliving wasn’t willing to part with any prospects or picks in an effort to land a big fish, he did add some depth to the roster at Friday’s trade deadline, welcoming Nick — with 80 career goals, the 27-year-old left-winger owns the softest hands in the family — and mobile defenceman Troy Stecher in that first-of-its-kind deal with the Desert Dogs.
“Kind of a weird scenario,” Nick acknowledged in his first chat with the Calgary-based media. “But I’m obviously really excited to be here and have a chance to have a playoff push down the stretch.
“You don’t really see it coming and then you get a call and that happens and it’s just exciting. My time in Arizona was really good, nothing but good things to say about them, but it’s nice to have a chance to play some real meaningful hockey the last 20 games.”
That was Stecher’s initial reaction, too.
“Obviously, super excited to join a team that’s pushing for the playoffs and right in the hunt in the West and a team that, quite frankly, should be in the playoffs,” he said. “That’s why you play — you want to win, you want to compete for the Stanley Cup. So coming here and having an opportunity to chase down the playoffs and understand the situation we’re in, it’s exciting.
“That’s the position you want to be in as a hockey player. Every game now is just as important as a playoff game. That’s what you live for.”
Stecher was introduced to the Saddledome crowd in Saturday’s meeting between the Flames and Minnesota Wild. (Ritchie will have to wait for his first spin in Calgary’s colours. The big winger was a healthy scratch.)
While there were some hellos and handshakes prior to morning skate, the 28-year-old Stecher was also greeted by several familiar faces.
During his days with the Vancouver Canucks, he was teammates with Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Tyler Toffoli. In fact, he and Tanev hooked up for dinner when the Flames were in Arizona less than two weeks ago. Stecher owns a gold medal from the 2021 IIHF World Hockey Championship, a shiny reminder that he set up Andrew Mangiapane for the overtime winner in a quarterfinal nail-biter against Russia, and Milan Lucic has been a longtime off-season training partner.
With all those connections, you’d think he could have called in a favour and had one of his pals pick him up at the airport on Friday night.
“They told me to kick rocks,” Stecher cracked. “I got a car service there with Big Ritch.”
That, too, seems like a missed opportunity.
Brett could have left his wheels in short-term parking, no? Nick didn’t rule out the idea of a short-term house swap, although he admitted the leave-the-keys-under-the-mat joke is “kind of getting old.”
That doesn’t mean that he and Brett — or ‘Butter,’ which was his nickname during his two-season stint at the Saddledome — didn’t see the humour in this historic sibling switcheroo.
“We were laughing, for sure,” Nick said. “I called him right after. He found out from Brad and then I talked to (Coyotes general manager) Bill Armstrong, and they were both chuckling a little bit, too.
“That’s the sport. That’s the profession. Hopefully, we can make the most of a new change.”
Hopefully, Nick’s season extends beyond mid-April.
Hopefully, Paul and Tammy will be planning their spring schedule around playoff games.
“(Brett) said it’s a great group, obviously a veteran team that has a good chance here,” Nick relayed. “They’ve been in a lot of one-goal games on the wrong side of it, so hopefully get on the right side of those ones and have a chance at the playoffs.
“It’s obviously going to take some good hockey, but get on a bit of run and you could be right there.”
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