When Jeff Zatkoff walked into the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester last Friday, it felt surreal.
Zatkoff spent the last three-and-a-half years playing for the Monarchs, so he knew the arena well.
Most of it, anyway.
It was strange walking into the arena and going to the visitor's locker room. It's an arena I've been in a ton of times, but at the same time it's so foreign to you because you're in the visitor's locker room and you're playing at the opposite end of the ice.
Strangeness aside, Zatkoff turned in his best performance as a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin so far, blanking his former teammates 3-0 while stopping all 33 shots he faced.
Now in his fifth season as a pro, Zatkoff had never been in a position to face a former team before Friday. He was a third round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2006 and spent every year of his pro career with the organization's AHL-affiliate in Manchester.
Zatkoff's return to Manchester was just like it was before he left, at first. The Penguins arrived a day early so Zatkoff met some of his old teammates for dinner and reminisced about seasons past.
After that, however, it was all business.
I just focused on the game. Once it starts you don't really think about anything else, he said.
You could see the signs of November on some of the Penguins faces during Tuesday's practice. Robert Bortuzzo's hairy upper lip has given him the edge over some of his teammates, who will be growing mustaches this month as part of Mormina's Mustache Mania. The event, which is spearheaded by defenseman Joey Mormina, raises awareness for prostate cancer. The players do their part by growing mustaches, and fans can do theirs by making donations (visit www.wbspenguins.com) which the team will give to the American Cancer Society.
Now in its second year, Mormina's mustache project has a special meaning for the veteran defenseman. Last year his father-in-law, Nels Palm, successfully battled prostate cancer.
He's doing well and in full remission, Mormina said. He's battled through some tough times and now he's doing great.
After a successful run last season, Mormina and Penguins vice president of operations Brian Coe spoke this summer about keeping the fundraiser going.
Mormina didn't have to be convinced.
We really want this to grow to raise awareness for prostate cancer and men's health in general, Mormina said. The fans have told me that they appreciate it, and if we can help even one person by raising awareness, that's our goal.
• Head coach John Hynes said Paul Thompson's four-goal outburst over two games last weekend is the result of improved intensity and execution. Thompson said his six goals this season – only two players have more in the entire league – is a result of being more consistent both in game situations and practice. I'm coming to the rink to work every day, he said. When you're playing the right way and doing the little things, good things happen.
• After an 0-4 start, the Penguins have won four out of their last five games. Hynes attributes the turnaround to better chemistry among lines and his players gaining a better grasp of the team's system, among other things. We weren't getting the spectacular performances. Now, we had great goaltending, the special teams stepped up and Warren Peters had that big hit in Manchester that gets a four-minute power play, he said. Those were some of the things we missed.
• The Penguins kick off a five-game homestand tonight at 7:05 p.m. against the Binghamton Senators.