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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

After a long, grueling hockey season, NHL players usually head for warm destinations.

Few can say they went on tour with legendary rock bands.

Joel Kwiatkowski did, though, as he and his wife followed bands Poison and Cinderella through Michigan on their “20 Years of Rock Tour” last summer.

And, it wasn’t like he was just following the bands to catch some concerts. Kwiatkowski, a guitar player, actually got on stage with the bands during their sound checks.

“I am actually really into music. Chris Moody, my old [assistant equipment manager] in Florida, his best buddy is a tour manager for a bunch of bands. So, we got out with Poison and Cinderella on a little tour last summer,” he said. “I met a lot of people and did a couple sound checks and it was a lot of fun. I play guitar avidly. To be around the best, it’s a lot of fun.”

Kwiatkowski jumped at the chance to join the tour.

“They came through Michigan. My wife and I have a house in Grand Rapids, so we went to Lansing and Detroit and followed them around to Ohio a little,” he said. “Obviously, I like some good rock – the hair bands are huge with me, especially when you have buddies in the industry. It makes it a lot more fun.”

While the 20th anniversary tour was very toned down compared to how such tours were in the bands’ early days, Kwiatkowski still enjoyed getting an inside look at the whole process bands go through while on the road.

“It was tremendous fun. They are not in their prime anymore, but it was great. They’re doing it for the love of it now and those guys just have a lot of fun,” he said. “Everybody thinks it’s a glamorous life. Hockey players want to be rock stars and rock stars want to be hockey players. It’s pretty similar, though, that’s what I realized. You’re on the road a lot. You play and try to give everything to the fans and then you’re done and then you can relax. They are normal people just like everyone else.

“It was a lot of fun. It’s funny because I have had the chance to skate with a bunch of them, too, and when I am in their element, they make fun of me and when they’re in mine, I make fun of them, so it’s great.”

Even though Kwiatkowski got to go on stage and jam on his guitar with the bands, he doesn’t foresee a change in professions in his future.

“I take [guitar playing] as serious as I can. I’ll sit down with my family and kids and play for them. That’s about the extent of it,” he said. “I don’t really have any goals, per se, to become professional, but it’s a lot of fun and it kills time. I have always been interested in it. In the last five years, I have really gotten into it. It’s a hobby. There are a lot of things I like to do and that is one of them.”

Kwiatkowski came to the Penguins on the NHL trade deadline day on Feb. 27. While he has played sparingly since his arrival in Pittsburgh, he’s still trying to adjust to new teammates and a different defensive system.

“That’s the thing. That’s what I am kind of fighting with right now. Obviously, you want to play, but things are established here,” he said. “So, you have to kind of bide your time. It’s hard as a competitor. Hopefully, things will work out for the team and myself. It’s hard, but that’s the game and I think it’s better to be frustrated on a winning team than on a losing team.”

Nevertheless, Kwiatkowski is thrilled to join a young team that continues to get better.

“I was a little surprised, but when you look down the roster, it’s definitely a team for now and the future,” he said. “You want to be a part of something like that – something special.”

And, after playing against Pittsburgh and following the Penguins before and during his playing career, he feels privileged to be part of the organization.

“I remember in my younger days, [Mario] Lemieux and some of the other great players who were here. The franchise is very established,” he said. “It’s one of those things you follow and now that you’re a part of it, you step back and realize it. It’s all happened real fast. At the end of the year I will probably take a step back and it will put a smile on my face because it’s been a great experience.”


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