- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Former Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman will play his first game at TD Garden since being traded to Florida along with the 2010 15th overall pick at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and a third-round pick in 2011 in exchange for forwards Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell last June.
After a breakout 50-point season in 2008-09 in which he was an amazing plus 32, Wideman's game dropped in 2009-10 as he battled inconsistency and struggled in his own end all season, finishing with just 30 points at a minus -14. He became a scapegoat as he and the Bruins played mediocre hockey for much of the season, and he was booed mercilessly, at times hearing it every time he touched the puck at TD Garden.
When asked what he expected from Bruins fans Thursday night when the Bruins and Panthers meet for the first time this season, Wideman smiled.
"Who knows?" he said laughing. "Probably the same as it was the middle of last year. I don't think there will be cheers. But you never know."
Throughout the tough times last season, Wideman, though obviously affected by the jeers, handled it like a pro and he still did Thursday, praising the very fans who drowned him in boos last season. He said he misses their passion – as well as other aspects of Boston.
"Playing here was great. I loved the city but, yeah, it's a little different being on the other side," Wideman said. "I miss the restaurants in the North End, I'll tell you that. I'm cooking a lot on my own now, that's for sure. But really just playing in an Original 6 city like Boston was a privilege I was proud of and happy I had the chance to do. The fans are all so passionate here and I miss that the most I think, even if that meant them getting on me when I wasn't playing well. They care and that's all you can ask for."
Wideman said he also learned some valuable lessons as a player in Boston and feels that, despite the rough season, he is a better player for it.
"I think just to always try and be consistent and stay within your game," Wideman said when asked what he took as a player during his three-plus seasons in Boston. "You know, working with 'Rammer' [former Bruins assistant coach Craig Ramsay] and 'Houds' [current Bruins assistant coach Doug Houda] really helped my game a lot I think. Yeah, I had some ups and downs, but they always stuck with me and gave me confidence and I think I'm better for it."
When asked about Wideman's return, Bruins head coach Claude Julien praised the former Bruins rear guard. He also pointed out that while everyone looks at the scoring the Bruins got from Nathan Horton in that trade, they also got a scrappy and valuable player in Gregory Campbell.
"I think we lost a pretty good player," Julien said of Wideman. "But that was the price to pay for a pretty good forward in Horton, and obviously we got Campbell … he's been a great asset to us. Even [Wednesday] night, I thought he was outstanding for us. So, you know, we gave up a pick and we gave up a real good defenseman but I think in return we filled our needs. To me, I have a feeling it was a pretty good deal for both clubs."
For Wideman, even though he didn't necessarily want to leave Boston, it was a fresh start and a chance to realize his potential again as he did in 2008-09.
"Things are good now and it's a new start I guess," Wideman said. "I like the guys here and, hey, you can't beat the weather, so I'm good."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance