OTTAWA -- Dany Heatley thinks he knows what lies ahead tonight when he returns to the place he called home for four NHL seasons before the messy divorce that followed.
Prolonged booing -- high-volume displeasure directed at him by more than 20,000 hostile Ottawa Senators fans inside Scotiabank Place who have waited 15 months to let him know what they think of him.
"I've gone into rinks like that before, and I expect much of the same as Edmonton or Atlanta the first time," he said in the days leading to this major event on the North American hockey calendar.
The suggestion that this could be a lot more intense, a lot uglier doesn't faze him.
"That's fine," he said. "One boo, or however many boos, it's all the same to me."
He says it matter-of-factly. The words may convey a sense of defiance, but that isn't the tone he is using.
No matter. Whatever Heatley has to say on the subject isn't likely to convince anyone here -- or maybe anywhere across Canada -- that he isn't the self-centered villain in a soap opera that played itself out over the summer of 2009.
Act One: The leaked trade demand that came two seasons after Heatley -- a 50-goal scorer who helped his team reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2006 -- signed a long-term contract that would keep him with the Senators through 2014.
Act Two: The rejection of a deal that would have sent him to the Edmonton Oilers, effectively forcing a trade to San Jose for what was perceived as lesser value -- Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second-round draft pick.
Act Three: The dispute over the $4 million contract bonus that Senators owner Eugene Melnyk had to pay Heatley on July 1, 2009 -- and tried to get back from him or the Sharks.
And all of this set in a community that provided refuge for a young player who needed a fresh start after an Atlanta Thrashers teammate died in a 2003 auto crash in which Heatley was behind the wheel.
"If you want to modify the old saying, you can say, 'Hell hath no fury like a Canadian hockey city scorned,' " said Bob McKenzie, longtime hockey analyst for TSN, the Canadian sports TV network. "And a smaller-market Canadian city -- either Ottawa or Edmonton -- they tend to be even more intense in their civic pride."
The fan base here is seriously stirred. As one person put it in the comment section of an Ottawa Sun hockey blog, the goal is to make Heatley's life "a living hell from the first step he takes off the plane."
Still, neither McKenzie nor Kelly Hrudey, the onetime Sharks goalie who now serves as a commentator for "Hockey Night in Canada," thinks the fuss will cross the line of acceptable wrath.
"I think it'll get near the line, but it won't cross the line," Hrudey said. "I think people understand that, and as much as they harbor a lot of resentment and anger toward Heatley, I think that they'll keep it somewhat cool."
Adding to the antagonism is the sense among Senators fans that when Heatley eventually broke weeks of silence, he still didn't make his motives clear. That fed speculation that it was a personal clash with new coach Cory Clouston or dislike of the intrusive media glare that comes with playing in Canada.
Heatley, however, doesn't think his explanation was vague.
"Like I said, it was a diminished role there at the time," Heatley said. "And secondly, I plain and simple needed a change, a change in hockey scenery. I got that here, and I'm happy every day coming to the rink."
Heatley did note that he is looking forward to seeing some of his former teammates -- Jason Spezza and Chris Phillips in particular -- and others who work behind the scenes for the Senators.
Several of Heatley's current teammates have Ottawa connections and recognize the environment in which they will be competing tonight.
"Because my family's there, I hear how people are excited to be going and boo him," said Dan Boyle, who grew up in Ottawa. "There's definitely some resentment."
Rookie Logan Couture played junior hockey for the Ottawa 67s and knows the city well from his four years there that coincided with Heatley's time with the Senators.
"They really are passionate about their team," Couture said. "I know some people who are big Sens fans, and they aren't too happy with him. They're always asking, 'Is he a good guy?' because they don't know. And I always tell them he's a great guy."
Both coaches are downplaying tonight's expected sideshow.
"We're going to address it like any other game. He's a top player, he's scoring, he's on a hot streak, and we need to take his time and space away," Clouston told the Ottawa Sun on Wednesday. "We're not going to do anything other than play our game."
And Sharks coach Todd McLellan said that the Heatley brouhaha won't be a part of any of his pregame conversations with players.
"We have a job to do," McLellan said. "and that job will be to play against the Ottawa Senators, the 20 guys they dress on the ice. We can't control what happens off of it."
For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Contact him at 408-920-5940.