Jeff Zatkoff got the news he had been waiting for.
After Friday's practice at Coal Street, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach John Hynes announced that Zatkoff would start the season opener tonight in Binghamton.
Hynes said choosing between Zatkoff and veteran Brad Thiessen, who started the last two season openers, was a tough choice.
"It wasn't clear cut and we felt both played well in the preseason," Hynes said. "Brad's a veteran guy, knows Binghamton and that environment. Jeff, we'd like to see him come in and give him an opportunity. We had to pick one."
While the decision was difficult for Hynes, it was an honor for Zatkoff, who will be making his second career season-opening start. The 25-year-old is coming off an all-star season with the Manchester Monarchs, where he posted 21 wins, a 2.49 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
Having to wait until the day before to learn the news was no big deal, he said.
"You can't worry about that. You have to take care of your own business, get better every day and if you're called upon make sure you're ready."
Zatkoff faces a Binghamton Senators team that had the fewest points in the AHL last season and missed the playoffs, one year after its Calder Cup championship. But the Senators have a new coaching staff and, like many AHL teams during the lockout, plenty of new faces.
Hynes said it's tough to do a lot of scouting of other clubs in the preseason so he expects his team to adjust as the game goes on.
Zatkoff agreed, and said it will take some time for the Penguins to get a feel for the new-look Senators.
"Once you play a team a couple of times you get a handle on it," he said. "It's going to be like that at first with many teams because the league is deeper with talent this year."
The Penguins included. Saturday's opener will also give Hynes a chance to see what his team, which is stocked with plenty of rookies and new veterans, looks like.
"You don't really have a read on your team yet because you haven't played a game, haven't gone through the ups and downs," he said. "But this one goes in the books, and there's a little bit more anticipation."
And anxiousness, according to Zatkoff.
"Five months off… everyone here is ready to get the real games going," he said. "Getting that first one behind you is always a good feeling."
at Binghamton Senators
Tonight, 7 p.m.