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Michalek brothers get post-Thanksgiving matchup

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- There’s a brother vs. brother matchup in the NHL during the Thanksgiving weekend, too -- the latest meeting of the Michalek brothers.
One that, to satisfy their parents back in the Czech Republic, must go to overtime so that each team -- and each brother -- gains at least a point in the standings.
It’s quite likely that Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek will be on the ice at the same time as his brother, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek, on Friday night at Consol Energy Center.


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Zbynek Michalek and partner Paul Martin often oppose a team’s top line, and right wing Milan Michalek teams with left wing Colin Greening and center Jason Spezza on the Senators’ productive No. 1 line.
“It’s always a special game for both of us,” said Zbynek, who, at 28, is two years older; both will have birthdays next month. “On the ice it’s business as usual. I want to win, he wants to win, so we’ll do our best to win.”
Milan Michalek has a team-leading 12 goals -- only one behind Penguins’ team leader James Neal -- plus 6 assists for 18 points. He went into Friday’s games tied for third in the League in goals.
The Michalek brothers played together on the 2010 Czech Olympic team, but their paths to the NHL were quite different. Zbynek wasn’t selected in the NHL Draft despite playing two seasons for Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior League. He finally joined the Minnesota Wild after playing most of two seasons with Houston (AHL).
“He had a long way to go, he did it the hard way and he deserves every game he gets here,” his younger brother said. “He’s one of the best defensemen right now in the League, so I’m happy for him.”
Milan, by contrast, was drafted No. 6 by San Jose in 2003 and debuted in the NHL later that year, scoring a goal in his first game only to tear a knee ligament in his second. He recovered from that torn ACL, and a subsequent tear later that season, and has scored at least 17 goals in every NHL season since 2005-06.
“It’s a big challenge to face him because he’s a good player and I’m a defensive player, so I have to stop him,” said Zbynek Michalek, who returned earlier this week from a 10-game layoff with a broken finger. “I’ve been impressed he’s having a good start and playing well for his team. We’ve got to play hard against him, keep him away from the net and keep him outside.”
The brothers Michalek opposed each other frequently when they were in the Western Conference, but Friday night’s game was their first against each other this season. After the Senators’ plane landed Thursday, Milan went to his brother’s house to visit with Zbynek, wife Helena and son Andreas and, of course, enjoy a holiday meal.
“Yeah, the turkey was pretty good,” Milan Michalek said with a smile. “Hopefully I’ll be able to keep going tonight. He eats a lot more than me, but he’s a lot skinnier. I don’t know how that works.”
The brothers were so busy catching up with each other, they probably didn’t sneak a peek at the NFL’s brother vs. brother coaching matchup in which the Ravens’ John Harbaugh opposed the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh on Thursday night.
And how did one Michalek brother wind up as a defenseman and the other land at forward? It wasn’t always that way; both started their careers as defensemen, but Milan subsequently switched to playing on a wing. And his brother nearly landed at another position.
“He was the goalie when we played on the streets,” Milan said. “He was always in the net.”
Now, Zbynek -- who on Wednesday played in his 500th career game -- will try to keep Milan away from the net.
Milan has 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points in 11 career games against Pittsburgh, or the same number of goals his brother has in eight games against Ottawa. Their career totals, understandably, are quite different; Milan has 143 goals (in 470 games) to his brother’s 33.
After Friday night, it will be back to texting and cell phone chats for the brothers, but only for a short time. The Penguins and Senators play again Dec. 16 in Ottawa, when it will be Milan’s responsibility to furnish dinner.
“We’ve played lots of games against each other now, but I’m excited to play him and it should be fun,” Milan said. “We talk a lot during the season and I always see how he’s doing. I’m happy now he’s back from the injury.”
Their parents probably will be glad when this latest brother vs. brother confrontation is over.
“They just cheer for both of us. They say just go to overtime and then they don’t care who wins,” Milan said. “They’ll be watching, for sure.”
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