GLENDALE – The Coyotes added eight young players to the mix last weekend in Pittsburgh. They also added an old friend via a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“When I found out I was traded to Phoenix I was really thrilled because now I’m heading back to the place where I played my best hockey,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. “Plus, me and my family were there for five years and we made a lot of friends there in hockey and away from hockey. We really felt like Phoenix was our home away from home in Europe. We were so comfortable in Phoenix and we are very excited to be going back.”
|Zbynek Michalek |
Michalek played five seasons for the Coyotes before leaving via free agency after the 2009-10 season. In those five seasons he evolved from an undrafted player looking to land an NHL job to an alternate captain.
“I really feel like the Coyotes are my team and I’m excited to be coming home,” Michalek said. “I can’t wait to step back on the ice in a Coyotes uniform and play in front of the fans that I had a really good relationship with when I was there. Hopefully they will support me again.”
Michalek played two seasons for the Penguins. He said he has fond memories of his time with Pittsburgh.
“It was a big change from what I was used to in Phoenix, on and off the ice,” Michalek said. “It was a hard transition but I was up for that challenge. It was a great experience and I will never say anything bad about Pittsburgh – the city or the team. I have some great memories from my time there; my daughter was born there about a month and a half ago, so that city will always be with us. They have great fans and a great team… I just hope that I’ve become a better player and a better person out of my whole experience there.”
Unlike when he joined the Penguins, Michalek will see plenty of familiar faces when he walks into the Coyotes dressing room for the first time in September. He says he will enjoy shaking hands with former teammates and letting them know he was proud of them for reaching the Western Conference Final last season.
“I think I watched every single game the Coyotes played in the playoffs and I was so impressed with the way they played,” Michalek said. “Having said that, I wasn’t surprised how well they played at all because of the way they’re coached. Nobody gives that team enough credit. They had a great run and it was fun to see. I was really rooting for them hard.”
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Another plus for Michalek is that he’ll again be playing for a team with other Czech Republic natives. That wasn’t the case in Pittsburgh where he was the lone Czech.
“I played with Marty (Hanzal) and Radim (Vrbata) for a few years and we’re good friends and still talk often,” Michalek said. “It will be nice to be on a team again with them. They’re great friends and great players. It will also be nice to be able to speak the language again with guys who will understand me.”
While nothing is written in stone, the initial plan is for Michalek to play with 20-year-old Swede Oliver Eklman-Larsson as a shut-down defensive pairing.
“He’s such a great player, and I think he grew and improved very much this season,” Michalek said of Ekman-Larsson. “Like I said, I watched every Coyotes game in the playoffs and I think he was the best player on the ice in most of the games. That was very impressive for a guy so young. If I have a chance to play with him I’ll be honored, and I’ll try my best to help him and help the team. Hopefully the team will benefit from that.”
Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said the Coyotes are glad to have Michalek back on the roster - and under contract for the next three seasons - because they never wanted to lose him in the first place.
“We just thought with the way we play - with Dave Tippett (as coach) and our style – that we needed that No. 1 match-up guy (on defense),” Maloney said. “He was a guy who just fit with us… He was an assistant captain when he left so we know what we’re getting.”