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Tlusty reunited with old friends upon trade to Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Approximately 6,000 miles separate the Czech city of Kladno and MTS Centre, the home of the Winnipeg Jets.

However, three childhood friends find themselves in the same landing spot after the Jets acquired left wing Jiri Tlusty from the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.

The trade uprooted Tlusty, 26, from a team he played for since he was 21 years old and where he grew into a full-time NHL player.

Jiri Tlusty
Center - WPG
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 23
SOG: 99 | +/-: -17
Tlusty joins two fellow Czechs, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and right wing Michael Frolik, but the ties between the three players go far beyond that.

"[Tlusty] texted me right away when he knew," Frolik said. "It was a little bit of a shocker."

Jets coach Paul Maurice coached Tlusty with Carolina and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Defenseman Jay Harrison and Tlusty began the season as Hurricanes teammates before Harrison headed to Winnipeg in a trade Dec. 18.

"It makes things easier to have two great buddies on the team," Tlusty said before his first game with the Jets on Thursday.

"I'm really excited. We are great friends from back home. We always hang out in the summertime, train together, spend the summer back home. It's going to be so much fun to be on the same team.

"I played with [Pavelec at the 2013 World Championship], and it was so much fun. Now I'm excited to have him and [Frolik] over here."

The three players spent time together with HC Kladno's junior teams and represented the Czech Republic at various levels of junior competition. Frolik and Tlusty played the 2005-06 season with HC Kladno.

"We had always joked about it [happening], and now it happened," Pavelec said. "When [Frolik] was traded here [in 2013 by the Chicago Blackhawks], we couldn't believe it. Now there are three of us here."

But Tlusty's connection to Frolik and Pavelec goes well beyond the NHL and international play. They played minor hockey together since they were 8 or 9, according to Tlusty.

"We grew up together," said Tlusty, who sits next to Frolik in the Winnipeg dressing room.

Beyond the childhood connections, Tlusty's arrival comes at a much-needed time for the Jets. Winnipeg is attempting to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007 when the franchise was known as the Atlanta Thrashers. The Jets hold the first Western Conference wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jets forwards Mathieu Perreault and Blake Wheeler each are out with a lower-body injury. Maurice compared Tlusty's two-way game and versatility with that of Frolik, who has spent time on each of Winnipeg's top three lines this season.

The trade also enabled Maurice to return Dustin Byfuglien to defenseman, where he can play 25 minutes per game.

Ondrej Pavelec
Goalie - WPG
RECORD: 13-13-7
GAA: 2.60 | SVP: .909
"First of all, he is a really good player," Pavelec said of Tlusty, who has 13 goals and 10 assists in 53 games. "He is going to help the team."

Maurice slotted Tlusty on the second line with center Mark Scheifele and right wing Drew Stafford, another recent addition. The Jets brought in Stafford and defenseman Tyler Myers from the Buffalo Sabres in the Evander Kane trade on Feb. 11.

Maurice tends to be a hands-off coach with regard to managing his dressing room, preferring to allow captain Andrew Ladd and other Jets leaders to ease the transition for new players.

But Tlusty's transition figures to be particularly smooth with familiar faces around him.

"Nobody ever expected that three buddies could play on the same team in the NHL," Frolik said. "It's something very special."

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