Garnet Exelby was back in Atlanta Tuesday – if only for the day.
The former Thrashers defenseman made his first appearance at Philips Arena as an opposing player after being traded to Toronto in the offseason as part of the Pavel Kubina deal.
“It’s great to be back,” Exelby said before the Maple Leafs played the Thrashers. “It’s a little strange seeing the arena and the rink from a different side. I had no idea how to get in the building as a visitor. I came in [several hours early] one of the ways I knew from when I was a player here. I’ve never been in this dressing room before. Hopefully, I won’t [line] change on the wrong bench.”
Exelby said he was anxious to play and get the game over.
“Eventually, you are going to play a game against a former teammate, but to have everyone be your old team is very different,” Exelby said. “You almost know the other team as well as you know the team you are playing on right now. It’s an interesting dynamic.”
Hockey players are used to playing against former teammates. It’s part of the business.
“I think it will be a lot weirder for him,” Thrashers forward Chris Thorburn said. “It’s business on the ice but afterward we’ll probably have a couple laughs.”
The Maple Leafs play again in Atlanta in March but that won’t be Exelby’s last visit. He said he still has his house here and plans to keep it.
“I like living here,” he said. “I’ll likely be back here in the offseason. I’m not sure what level it will be – every other weekend type of thing or if I will train here for the summer. I’m still working that out.”
Exelby, who is an unrestricted free agent following the season, struggled early in the season to crack the Maple Leafs lineup. He has been a healthy scratch 20 times. However, he has played the past nine games.
“When you are in and out of the lineup every game is sort of your first game of the year and it’s tough to get anything going,” said Exelby, who has three assists. “Hockey is all about confidence and you can’t get confidence without playing. A player has to be able to play through a mistake here or there and not worry about making a mistake and what’s going to happen. I definitely want to be playing the rest of the game this year. When I do play, I want to do the best I can.”