After Leaving Imprint on Flyers, Mark Streit Soaks in ‘special' Return as Rival

Mark Streit had taken this walk so many times before.

For three and a half seasons, Streit walked down this hallway in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center and hung a quick right into the Flyers' locker room before a morning skate or a game.

But Wednesday morning was different.

Instead of hanging that quick right into the Flyers' locker room, Streit kept walking down this hallway, almost until he reached the end. He then made a left and then a sharp right into the Villanova basketball locker room, aka the NHL visiting locker room, to put on his still-fresh black and gold gear for morning skate.

No longer the elder statesman on the Flyers' blue line after a pair of trade deadline day deals two weeks ago, Streit returned to South Philly on Wednesday for the first time as a member of the heated intrastate rival Penguins.

"It's a special feeling. I'm excited for tonight," Streit said Wednesday morning after the Pens finished up their morning skate hours before a 4-0 loss to the Flyers (see game story).

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"I had a great time here. I mentioned that a few times. It was a great experience playing for the Flyers. A lot of young guys came up and they're doing well. It's a good feeling when you can help somebody in their career."

Signed as a free agent to a four-year deal in the summer of 2013, Streit gave the Flyers' blue line some offensive punch with 30 goals and 110 assists for 140 points in 274 regular-season games, all while being a steady, reliable presence. He even wore the "A" as a Flyers alternate captain for three seasons.

In his time in Philadelphia, Streit played the mentor role to a plethora of Flyers' young defensemen, taking them under his wing and showing them how to be a pro in the NHL.

"I think from the first time you meet Mark, and even [Nick Schultz], they're professionals every day," Brandon Manning said. "I think a couple years ago when I had call-ups and the team wasn't making the playoffs, you see that professionalism day in and day out with a guy like that.

"He's definitely one of those guys you want to have around. It's tough to lose him. But he was great for a lot of us and he kind of shows the way you should treat people and how people deserve to be treated. And he's someone who respects the game."

Streit's final protégé with the Flyers was rookie Ivan Provorov, who is averaging a few ticks under 22 minutes a night and played a career-high 27:17 against the Penguins on Wednesday.

"Playing with him a little bit through the preseason and this year definitely helped me," the 20-year-old said. "Just seeing how he takes care of his body and how he is in the locker room and on and off the ice. He's just one of those guys you can take up as an example."

On March 1, Streit, an impending unrestricted free agent, was dealt to Tampa in a deal that netted the Flyers second-line center Valtteri Filppula and a fourth-round pick and seventh-round pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft. About an hour later and just minutes before the 3 p.m. trade deadline, the Lightning sent Streit to Pittsburgh for a 2018 fourth-round pick.

"I never really got in touch with Tampa. I just talked to my agent and he basically told me to hang tight and that something else might happen," Streit explained. "And that's what I did. It was a crazy day. I never experienced that. It was a long day.

"I knew something else was going to happen. But I didn't exactly know where it was going to be. I kind of had to wait. And then an hour later, it was Pittsburgh. So it was a crazy afternoon, for sure.

"But I have a great opportunity with a great team. So I'm excited and I'm going to embrace it, as well. The transition was smooth. All the guys were really nice and it's been fun so far."

Streit has stepped into an important role with Pittsburgh and has made an impact with a goal and three assists in seven games. And the Pens needed him as their defensive corps has been shredded with injuries to Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley.

Streit himself had an injury scare during the Penguins' previous game, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Flames in Calgary on Monday night. He blocked a shot and left the game after playing only 5:09. He was sent to the hospital for tests for what the Pens called a "lower-body injury," but was later released and flew home to Pittsburgh with the team.

A game-time decision against the Flyers, Streit zoomed through warmups and felt well enough to play against his former club for the first time.

Streit saw 20:22 of ice time and recorded one shot, a clean look just below the faceoff dot that Steve Mason snuffed out with his right pad, one of 23 saves the Flyers' netminder made on the night.

"It was different and kind of special," Streit said after the game of his return to Philadelphia. "It's not easy when you play your former team and you've been here three and a half years."

At the under-10-minute TV timeout in the first period, a video montage of Streit's best moments as Flyer played on the Wells Fargo Center jumbotron as the fans in the stands, mostly clad in orange, applauded.

When the video was over, those same orange-clad fans cheered and Streit's teammates, both his current ones with the Penguins and his former ones with the Flyers, tapped their sticks against the boards in salute as Streit was shown on the big screen.

"I didn't expect it and I thought it was really nice and it showed a lot of class," Streit said of the video tribute. "It's a big honor. I was surprised and it was really nice of them."

In a rivalry like Flyers-Penguins, trash talking floods the ice at almost every turn. It's natural when these two teams meet. Something would be wrong if it weren't like that.

Streit admitted he was on the receiving end of some friendly chatter from his former mates during Wednesday's game.

"It's tough when you know all those guys pretty well," Streit said with a chuckle. "It's tough not to talk because all the other guys are talking to you. I just try to stay in the game as much a possible. Obviously, the other guys are talking the whole night. … I'm not a really good trash talker out there."

Everybody chirps during these Flyers-Penguins games, even the younger defensemen whom Streit mentored with the Flyers.

Streit was flattered by the compliments those younger defensemen sent his way and is proud to have made an impact on their careers.

"It's really nice of them," Streit said. "They're great players and have a great future. I'm happy if I influenced them, even a little bit and even if it's just one thing. They're great players with bright futures ahead of them and they're still young.

"They're doing great and I'm happy to see that."

Streit admitted Wednesday's return was a bit tough for him. But he's relieved it's now over and he can focus on the Penguins' playoff run. As of Thursday morning, the Penguins are just two points behind the Capitals for the top spot in the NHL and have a more-than-legitimate shot to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

"It was special, but it's done with and I'm looking forward to the next games with the Penguins and hopefully getting back on a winning note," Streit said.

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