The rivalry between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Hershey Bears is always intense.
Insert Tom Sestito and Liam O’Brien into the equation, and the intensity level skyrockets.
Sestito, who began the 2016-17 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday, figures to make his NEPA debut when the Pens and Bears face off in a two-game tilt at the Mohegan Sun Arena this weekend.
Sestito and O’Brien engaged in a war of words online last spring, as well as a few memorable matchups on the ice in both the regular season and playoffs.
So what can we expect from Tito’s return?
“I’m excited to be down here and get playing in some games,” Sestito said. “I’m looking forward to contributing as much as I can, and hopefully that translates into some wins.”
That’s all well and good. But what about facing off against your favorite foe, Tom?
“Hershey’s a big rival. It’s not going to be hard to get up for that game,” Sestito said, toeing the line. “So it will be exciting on Friday, and we’ll see how many fireworks there are.”
Head coach Clark Donatelli knows what an imposing figure Sestito can cut on the ice, and he’s looking forward to getting the gritty forward into the lineup.
“He’s going to help us. He’s a big guy with great hands, and he’s in really good shape,” said Donatelli. “He’s a big asset for us.”
Donatelli also received word this morning that forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Derrick Pouliot would be returning to the team in time for this weekend’s games. Those two additions make an already formidable lineup even better.
Guentzell hasn’t suited up in the AHL since recording three points (1+2) against the Bears back on November 19. Since that time, he’s make his NHL debut and tallied three goals (including two in his first game) with Pittsburgh. Despite being in the show for more than three weeks, Guentzel still leads Wilkes-Barre/Scranton wth 17 points, while sharing the team lead in goals (7) and assists (10). He also remains tied for second among AHL rookies in points.
Pouliot appeared in three games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a conditioning assignment two weeks ago, and has now been declared healthy to play full time. But a log jam on the Pittsburgh blue line means he’ll be getting in quality minutes in NEPA.
“Obviously they’re very good players, and we’ll inject them into the lineup for sure,” Donatelli stated.
The Penguins currently lay claim to first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division by virtue of a .738 points percentage (31 of a possible 42). But the Bears and Lehigh Valley Phantoms are close on the Penguins’ heels with .705 percentages (31 of a possible 44 points), while the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are just one point behind those two clubs. That means the 2-5 ranked clubs in the AHL all reside in the division, and the Pens will face a pair of them in their three-in-three stretch this weekend (Friday & Saturday vs. Hershey; Sunday in Bridgeport)
“It’s a tough division, and head-to-head those teams are hard,” said Donatelli. “We’ve got our hands full, but we’re just going to take it game-by-game.”
The Pens return home on Friday, December 9 when they play the Hershey Bears at 7:00pm. It’s an Eyewitness News Fan Friday, with $14 lower bowl tickets, select draft beers for just $2 from 6-7:30pm, and a post-game autograph session with two Penguins players.