By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – A former teammate telephoned Zbynek Hrdel in Johnstown and asked him if he was interested in a couple tickets to the Pittsburgh Penguins home opener on Saturday.
The 20-year-old didn’t want to miss his friend Sidney Crosby’s first regular season game, a 7-6 overtime loss at Mellon Arena.
“He called me and said, ‘Hey, I heard you are in Johnstown. If you want to come, I’ve got a couple tickets for you.’ He’s a very nice guy to people,” Hrdel said Sunday after the Johnstown Chiefs’ opened training camp at Cambria County War Memorial Arena. “He gave me tickets and I went to see him.”
Hrdel took Chiefs teammate J.F. Soucy to Pittsburgh. Crosby, the first player selected in the NHL draft in July, is expected to help revive both the Pens and the NHL.
“It was a good game,” said Hrdel, a left wing who was Tampa Bay’s ninth-round pick in 2003. “Too bad for the Penguins, they lost the game in the third period after being up 6-4.”
Hrdel played the past three seasons with Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Last season he scored 23 goals and 58 points on a league championship team, then added eight goals and 15 playoff points on a Memorial Cup runner-up squad.The 6-foot-4, 195-pound native of Pisek, Czech Republic, spent two seasons as Crosby’s teammate and played on a line with the NHL’s newest sensation’s for more than a season.
“We are very good friends, very close,” Hrdel said. “I played with him in Rimouski. I came there when I was 16 years old. We played together and we became good friends. I was at his home for a couple weeks.
“We were on the same line for a year and a half, then the coach split us,” Hrdel added. “I played second line. Sidney played first line. Last year we won the Quebec Major League and went to the Memorial Cup Final and lost against the London Knights. It was a pretty good season.”