When the Phoenix Coyotes travel to San Jose on Saturday to face the Sharks there will be more on the line than just the two points, the inner-division victory and the start of a new winning streak. Saturday's contest has something much more personal on the line bragging rights. That is because Saturday's game will pit brother against brother as Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek will face his younger brother, San Jose forward Milan, for the first time in their NHL careers.
For both Michalek brothers, the meeting is long over due. During the 2003-04 season, Zbynek was a member of the Minnesota Wild and had hoped to play his brother at least once during the year, but Milan would suffer a season ending leg injury in the Sharks second game of the year, forcing the brothers to postpone their head-to-head battle.
"It was frustrating not to be able to face each other in 2003-04, especially for him (Milan) after being drafted and having such a great camp and making the team, everything was going so well for him," said Zbynek Michalek. "And then an injury in his second game kept him form playing again all season.
"At the same time, I was in the AHL and when I got called up to Minnesota, I knew we were going to play San Jose and I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't get the chance to face him. The good news is that while things didn't work out for us facing each other back then, we have the chance to do it now and it is even more special because we are both playing well."
Zbynek and Milan are both well aware of how each other is doing both individually and as a team since a day rarely passes where they don't call each other, especially after a game.
"We talk almost everyday and we always talk after our games," said Michalek. "We just try to help each other out and support each other."
As kids growing up in Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic, Zbynek and Milan were often teammates in youth hockey, despite the two-year age difference.
"Most of the time when we were kids, we played on the same team because my brother (Milan) was good enough to play with guys a couple years older than him," said Michalek. "We played a lot together and then we started to play against each other in midget hockey."
This season, Milan was all but assured a roster position with the Sharks heading into training camp, but Zbynek was still a member of the Wild heading into late August and his future was still undecided. Then on August 26, 2005, Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett acquired Michalek with the hope of adding some depth to his defensive unit.
In training camp and the preseason, it became obvious to Barnett and the Coyotes Coaching staff that Michalek was a special talent and what had originally been a move to add depth could turn out to a move for a top six defenseman.
"We liked Michalek and his play," said Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky. "The issue for us at the time was that we had several good defensemen on the roster and we thought about trying to hide him (Zbynek) so that he wouldn't get taken if we tried to send him to San Antonio. But it got to the point where we agreed that he was too good to hide and we gave him a shot at playing regularly and he has been very impressive."
Zbynek took the chance the Coyotes gave him and never looked back as he played his way into the Phoenix line-up, becoming one of the most productive defensemen on the team.
That experience and production will be a crucial part of Saturday's match-up as the Coyotes and Sharks battle in what could arguably be the biggest game of the season up to this point for both clubs.
"It's going to be a big divisional game and an important game for both teams," said Michalek. "For me personally, it will be an exciting game getting to play against my brother in the NHL. It is something that we dreamt about as kids and finally that day is here.
While Saturday will serve as a family reunion of sorts for the Michalek's, a true reunion won't be possible until Zbynek and Milan's parent's can be in attendance to see their sons battle on the ice.
"Our parents can't make it this Saturday, but they are planning to come out at some point this season and since we play them seven more times, hopefully they will get to see a game later this season," said Michalek.
There is no doubt that Saturday's contest will bring out the best of both brothers and the realization of a childhood dream should certainly bring added emotions onto the ice. While it is always difficult put personal feelings like that into words, perhaps Zbynek said it best.
"It will be a big game, it should be fun and hopefully we'll both have a good game and our team will win."
The Coyotes will face off against the Sharks at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Saturday's game can be seen on WB6 or heard on KDUS-1060 AM, KDKB-93.3 FM or by clicking the "Listen Live" link on the Game Day page at phoenixcoyotes.com.
NEXT HOME GAME
Phoenix will return to Glendale Arena on Sunday to play the Columbus Blue Jackets at 6:00 p.m. The first 10,000 fans at Sunday's gmae receive a free Coyotes mini-helmet. The Coyotes are also offering a kids deal for Sunday's game. Buy one adult ticket for $25.00 and receive a kids ticket for FREE (offer good at Glendale Arena or by calling 480.563.PUCK).
To purchase individual tickets for Sunday's game, click here.
LIVE CHAT WITH MICHAEL BARNETT
On Tuesday, November 22, 2005, Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett will take part in a live on-line chat conducted at NHL.com.
The chat will take place at 1:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. ET) and will be open to a variety of subjects including, the Phoenix Coyotes and an open NHL discussion. To sign up as a participant in Tuesday's Live Chat, click here.