‘You knew right when you got called off’: Bruins' Heinen remembers a mid-practice trade and emotional flight

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‘You knew right when you got called off’: Bruins' Heinen remembers a mid-practice trade and emotional flight

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Danton Heinen was feeling good. It was Feb. 24, 2020, the day of the 2019-20 trade deadline. The anxiety the Boston Bruins wing had felt before previous deadlines was absent.

That changed quickly.

During practice that morning at Warrior Ice Arena, then-coach Bruce Cassidy skated up to Heinen, informing the 2014 fourth-rounder that management wanted a word with him off the ice.

As Heinen departed practice, general manager Don Sweeney was there to deliver the news: Heinen was being traded to the Anaheim Ducks for Nick Ritchie.

“You knew,” said Heinen, who had signed a two-year, $5.6 million extension on July 9, 2019. “You knew right when you got called off.”

Heinen had three hours to say goodbye to his teammates, pack his things and report to Logan Airport. A cross-country flight awaited. Five hours aboard a plane gave him a much-needed window to process what had happened and what was to come.

“It was emotional,” Heinen recalled. “It was very emotional. Just because of the unknown.”

Less than three weeks later, Heinen’s season was going to come to an end. He just didn’t know it yet.

‘No hard feelings’

Three-plus years after the trade, Heinen was happy to speak with the man who shipped him to another coast. The day of the trade, Sweeney wished Heinen nothing but the best. That sentiment applied to Heinen as he sniffed around for jobs last summer.

“I have no hard feelings,” Heinen said. “I got traded for a different player than me that they thought they needed. It is what it is. Sweens told me, ‘I want all the best for you. I want you to succeed no matter what.’ I believed it was genuine. I wasn’t bitter at all.”

The Bruins wanted to get bigger in 2019-20. They identified the 6-foot-3, 236-pound Ritchie, the No. 10 pick in 2014, as a good fit for five-on-five and power-play duty. At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Heinen, the versatile but slight wing, was considered expendable.

During the westbound journey, Heinen processed what had happened. By the time he touched down in Anaheim, he had come to a conclusion: The Ducks wanted him. It was how he got over the hurt of his draft team letting him go.

But everything was different in Anaheim. It took time for Heinen to get comfortable.

It took Danton Heinen time to acclimate to Anaheim, and then the season was over. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

“When you get in a routine somewhere, you know where everything is. So you’re subconsciously just doing everything,” said Heinen. “Whereas when you go somewhere new, the big things are the systems, and all that is one thing. But it’s the other things like, ‘This is where the cold tub is. This is where the gym is. I don’t want to get in this guy’s way.’ That’s what happened. You’re overloaded. It’s a bit mentally taxing.”

Heinen scored three goals and one assist in his first nine games for the Ducks, averaging 16:21 of ice time per appearance. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Julie, who is now his wife, was tying up the couple’s loose ends in Boston. 

Julie arrived in Anaheim in early March. So did Heinen’s car, which he had shipped from Boston. 

Then came the news: The NHL was pausing the season because of COVID-19. Heinen’s car had arrived just in time. The couple drove from Anaheim to Vancouver, where Heinen spends his offseasons.

Heinen trained with the weights that were available in his childhood home in Langley, British Columbia. He bought a stationary bike. It turned out he was training for nothing. The Ducks were out of the playoffs once the NHL announced its return to play. 

Heinen didn’t return to Anaheim until the following season.

There and back again

In 2020-21, Heinen scored seven goals and seven assists in 43 games. He averaged 14:46 of ice time per game, including 0:54 on the power play and 1:17 on the penalty kill. His teammates included future Bruins Hampus Lindholm and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Anaheim did not make the playoffs. The Ducks did not issue a qualifying offer to Heinen, making him an unrestricted free agent. 

He signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. On Feb. 8, 2022, the Penguins visited the Bruins. It was the first time Heinen was back in Boston since the trade. He enjoyed the return, scoring two goals in the Penguins’ 4-2 win over his former team. They were two of a career-high 18 goals he recorded that 2021-22 season. Heinen had seemingly found a new home.

Danton Heinen scored a career-best 18 goals in 2021-22. (Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)

His touch did not extend to 2022-23. He dipped to eight goals in 65 games. The Penguins were not interested in bringing him back for another year.

Pittsburgh’s loss has been Boston’s gain. Heinen has 10 goals and nine assists in 44 games while averaging 14:07 of ice time per outing. His one-year, $775,000 contract is a bargain. He’s played on every line for coach Jim Montgomery. In all likelihood, he is safe prior to this year’s March 8 deadline.

Ritchie, meanwhile, became a free agent in 2021 after the Bruins declined to send him a qualifying offer. He is no longer in the NHL.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Heinen. “You go through it, and the first couple years it’s all new to you. That year, I wasn’t too stressed or too worried. So it did catch me a little bit off guard. But it is what it is.”

(Top photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)