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It's all in the family for Michalek brothers

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Milan Michalek and his brother, Zbynek, last squared off against other Dec. 5, 2009 in Phoenix, when the elder Michalek was with the Coyotes. They'll meet once more this afternoon in Pittsburgh, where Zbynek is now a Penguin (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images).

Check out the NHL game notes for today's Ottawa-Pittsburgh matchup.

On a holiday weekend in the United States that is all about family, one of hockey's brother acts will stage another reunion.

And when Milan Michalek of the Ottawa Senators streaks down the left wing this afternoon at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh (1 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200), there is every chance he'll see a familiar face waiting for him at the Penguins blue line.

Pittsburgh is now home to Zbynek Michalek, Milan's older brother, and today marks the first time they'll square off against each other as Eastern Conference rivals. An injured Zbynek wasn't in the Penguins lineup back on Oct. 18, when the Senators dropped a 5-2 decision.

While today's matchup marks their first meeting since Dec. 5, 2009 in Phoenix, when Zbynek was patrolling the blue line for the Coyotes, they've seen plenty of each other over the years. Enough that they've gotten past the initial awkward stage of competing against each other.

"We played a lot against each other when I was in San Jose and he was in Phoenix," said Milan Michalek. "Back then, it was eight times we used to play against each other. Especially because I’m a left wing and he’s a right defencemen, we (compete against) each other a lot. The first time we played against each other, it was weird and it was kind of difficult. But we got used to it and now it’s normal."

What hasn't happened so much, at least since they were youngsters back in Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic, is the opportunity to line up beside each other as teammates. No wonder, then, that both brothers cherished the chance to wear the same colours — that of their homeland — at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

"It was a dream come true," said Milan. "We played together on such a big stage. It was great for our parents, too. They came over and watched us and it was fun for everybody and a great experience."

So much so that, when Zbynek Michalek became a free agent on July 1, he considered joining his brother with the Senators. But in a twist of irony, Zbynek landed in Pittsburgh after Ottawa inked former Penguins blueliner Sergei Gonchar.

"We were talking about it lot," Milan said about the prospect of the two brothers joining forces on the same National Hockey League team. "It was one of his options, to come here, but it didn’t happen. Maybe sometime in the future we could be on the same team.

"I’m sure it would be great, to be with my brother on the same (NHL) team. It’s something we’ve dreamed about. We’ll see what’s going to happen in the future."

The NHL was foremost in the two brothers' minds as they grew up in the Czech Republic. Milan Michalek watched his older brother pick up the game and decided it was something he wanted to do, too. Now they're both playing the game on hockey's biggest and best stage.

Thursday night, the Michaleks gathered at Zbynek's home in Pittsburgh for a pre-game reunion of sorts. But it's most likely they've long grown beyond the 'can you believe we both made it?' tone to their conversation.

"We never actually talk about it like that," said Michalek with a grin. "I’m sure we’re both really happy that we made it and our parents are proud. But we want to keep doing better and better and achieve more."

Around the boards

Pascal Leclaire makes his third straight start in goal for the Senators today. He's allowed just four goals in his previous two starts ... With Erik Karlsson being reinserted into the lineup against the Penguins, head coach Cory Clouston chose to make blueliner Matt Carkner a healthy scratch ... Gonchar is two point shy of reaching the 700 plateau in his NHL career ... The Senators return home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), with the Edmonton Oilers visiting the capital on Monday (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

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