By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
Certainly, George Krestanovich never could have imagined it would take a hockey team from Florida to finally bring his two grandsons together in the same dressing room.
Or maybe he had something to do with it in a spiritual sort of way.
Jordan Krestanovich and Derek Krestanovich took the ice Friday night at Germain Arena together for just the 11th time in their professional careers — and for the first time knowing their grandfather would not be listening on the radio back home near Vancouver. George Krestanovich passed away last week and the brothers were there for the funeral, returning to Southwest Florida on Thursday.
“Before we went down to Pensacola we saw him a couple of days before we left so those kind of things are always tough,” said 23-year-old Jordan, the older of the two by two years. “But he was a huge supporter of ours growing up so he’d be happy for us to continue playing here. We were really close to him.”
Even when they were kids, the Krestanovich brothers rarely were on the same team, be it youth hockey or pickup games on the pond. Other than skating together in the summers as they prepared for their upcoming seasons, Jordan and Derek did not share the same ice.
In Derek’s case, he never ventured too far from home, playing five years of junior hockey for the Kamloops (B.C.) Blazers, Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan) Warriors and Swift Current (Saskatchewan) Broncos from 1999-2004. His first two seasons in the ECHL were with the Fresno Falcons, who traded him to Pensacola in the offseason.
Jordan was more of a world traveler after his four-year juniors career with the Calgary Hitmen from 1997-2001. His first stop was Hershey, Pa., with the American Hockey League’s Bears, and he made two appearances with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche — eight games in 2001-02 when he picked up two assists and 14 games in 2003-04.
He finished the 2003-04 season with the AHL’s Houston Aeros, spent all of 2004-05 in Pensacola, helping the Ice Pilots win the Brabham Cup (most points), then went over to Europe last year and played in the Swedish Elite League and the Italian Elite League.
“They’re good kids. They’ve got all the skill in the world and Jordan is kind of a quiet leader on this team. He’s a good kid and they’re both good guys,” Joe Clark, Pensacola’s interim head coach, said before Friday’s pregame skate. “They were a package deal, they came in together as a package deal and I think it meant a lot to them to finally be able to skate together on the same team.”
Derek was approached by then head coach and now Ice Pilots director of hockey operations George Dupont at the end of last season when he was in the Fresno airport and asked if he’d be interested in playing with his brother in Pensacola. Once the trade went through and the two discussed it, Jordan contacted the Ice Pilots and told them to make it happen.
Now the brothers are playing on the same line, with Derek centering and Dwayne Hay the other winger. Neither Krestanovich thought this opportunity would come, especially not this far away from home. Their parents and younger brother, Nick, are making the trip to Pensacola for Christmas to watch them play and spend some time together.
“I guess it’s a little different to look over and see your brother in the dressing room and see how he prepares for a game,” Derek said. “Other than just talking to him on the phone you don’t really know how your brother prepares for a game or just being around him every day I guess, but it’s pretty neat and I’m having fun.”
Clark said he is still waiting for that line to really click, and described the brothers as very similar in style and, unfortunately for him, very reluctant to shoot the puck. But he’s trying to get them to change their approach a little and become more selfish with the puck, which as linemates probably is something they are not accustomed to.
Maybe they’re making up for lost time and each wants the other to score first.
Whatever the reason, all that matters to their family back in British Columbia is that they can listen to one game on the Internet in order to follow the progress of their sons and brothers. And for their late grandfather, Jordan and Derek are keeping his memory alive.
“He was right there with my father and a big influence in our hockey careers,” said Derek, who has 11 points (3g-8a). “Basically, every day he’d listen to our games, if not, growing up he’d be at every single game in minor hockey, so we’ve got to play for him this year. We’re dedicating this season to him.”