As a power skating instructor, Besa Tsintsadze is in charge of improving the way the Pittsburgh Penguins move on the ice.
But, he has another, equally important role during Penguins rookie camp – Evgeni Malkin’s roommate/translator.
“Evgeni is such a good guy. We have a good relationship. He is going to start talking English soon on his own,” Tsintsadze said. “He has a good team and a good group of guys. Everybody already likes him so he’s going to learn and improve.”
Tsintsadze understands the language/culture change Malkin is enduring in Pittsburgh. Tsintsadze went through the same thing nearly 10 years ago when he left Georgia, a former Soviet Republic located between Russia and Turkey, for the United States.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand [on the ice], too, because there are so many drills going on. We try our best,” he said. “I am not a really good English-speaking man. I learned English when I came to this country. But, I have the same experience.”
While Malkin and the other Penguins rookies drew applause from the fans in attendance for the weekend rookie camp practices, Tsintsadze drew plenty of cheers from the 2,814 weekend visitors to Mellon Arena.
The sleek speedster, who flies around the ice like a pinball, put the Penguins through a variety of speed and power skating drills at the end of both practice sessions. Tsintsadze, an accomplished international figure skater in the early 1990s, ended Saturday’s session with an acrobatic move he called a “butterfly.”
“Always when I work with the pros or some kids, I always show some tricks just to have some fun,” he said. “I try to do some different stuff. I love to monkey around on the ice.”
Tsintsadze, who won six national figure skating titles and competed in three world and European championships, likes to have some fun, but he is serious when it comes to improving skating technique.
“Every day they are looking better and better, but they can always be better and better,” he said. “They are young. They learn and learn. It’s all about speed, technique, quick moves and quick feet. In the NHL today, they need that stuff.”
When Tsintsadze came to the United States, he landed in New York City and tried out for Disney on Ice. He wound up being the show’s lead skater. He traveled around the world doing skating shows with his wife, who also had a very successful international skating career.
Tsintsadze and his wife moved to Philadelphia from New York City in 2001. In search of a place to raise their family, they wound up in Wilkes-Barre.
“From Philadelphia, our friends invited us to come to Wilkes-Barre to check out what was going on. When you have a family, sometimes a small city is good for raising kids,” he said. “It is a beautiful city and I am still there and I am happy to work with the Penguins. They hired me for the rookie camp. I love to just share with the people.”
Tsintsadze worked with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players in the past and he instructed at the Pittsburgh Penguins Youth Hockey School this summer.
After practice Sunday, he was on the ice with a handful of young children, helping them skate better.
He just loves to teach, no matter the audience.
“I love working with these guys. My job is to make professional hockey players stronger and more powerful and comfortable with skating,” he said. “I work with hundreds of kids and lots of teams. I am just happy with what I am doing.
“I am trying to help everybody learn what I have learned about hockey.”