Sestito sees Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as the next best thing to the NHL

By Tom Venesky - [email protected]
Tom Sestito (left) hopes his strong finish to the season earns him a return trip to the NHL or another season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. - Fred Adams | For Times Leader

In the span of four games, Tom Sestito racked up 52 penalty minutes, got into three fights, earned two game misconducts and registered a goal and an assist.

And just for good measure, Sestito also engaged in a war of words on Twitter with Hershey Bears tough guy Liam O’Brien, adding more excitement to an already tense Atlantic Division Finals.

It was a week, and a series, that Sestito said ranks up there with the highlights of his career.

“I’ll always remember that one for the on- and off-ice stuff. It was fun,” Sestito said on Wednesday as the Penguins spent one last day cleaning out their lockers before heading home for the summer. “I hope the fans enjoyed it. We certainly did.”

The series against Hershey was Sestito’s first AHL postseason experience since 2008 when he was with the Syracuse Crunch. He was recalled to Pittsburgh and missed the first three games of the series, but when Sestito came back he made the most of it.

Now that the Penguins season, and the series, is over thanks to a Game 7 overtime loss, Sestito is turning it off as quickly as he turned it on. He’s shifting into family mode and looking forward to taking his newborn baby boy back home to visit family in upstate New York.

“The mind is going to be reset,” Sestito said. “It stings that I’m not playing, but I’m not looking at results of games anymore. I’m done with hockey for a couple weeks.”

While Sestito finished the 2015-16 season with an exclamation point, it started out as a bit of a struggle. A knee injury limited his time on the ice during the beginning of the season, and he didn’t begin to feel 100 percent until some time later.

It wasn’t the way that Sestito wanted to begin his first season with a new organization.

But when he finally got healthy, Sestito began to display his unique blend of toughness and offense.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time as the Penguins were preparing for the playoffs down the stretch.

In March, Sestito’s season hit full throttle when he scored two goals and six points, along with a game-winner, and added 37 penalty minutes in eight games. It continued into the postseason with a goal and four points in seven games.

Now, even though Sestito has turned off hockey for a while, he hopes the hockey world noticed what he can contribute when healthy.

“This is hopefully a turning point in my career to get me back to the NHL,” Sestito said. “I finally got to playing how I knew I could. I needed to prove that to a lot of people around here. You have to earn trust, and I think I did that.”

Sestito also earned the respect of his teammates.

Defenseman Steve Oleksy was happy to see Sestito come back from Pittsburgh in the middle of the Hershey series and help him handle some of the “tough guy” duties. But Oleksy was also glad to see Sestito help out on the scoresheet as well.

“It’s not just the physical side with him, but he’s a great hockey player as well,” Oleksy said. “A lot of times when you play that role it kind of overshadows the skill that he has.”

But Sestito’s physical upside didn’t overshadow his ability to be a team leader. When it came to leadership, Sestito’s name was mentioned regularly by coaches and teammates. He said it was en enjoyable role to add to his resume, and one that he’d like to continue as a Penguin again next season.

“My main goal is to be in the NHL, but being down here is the next best thing. A great city and organization, and I’d love to come back and be a part of it again,” Sestito said. “I think I’ll find out in the next couple of weeks and hopefully we can get something done.”

Pittsburgh makes call-ups

The season isn’t over for eight Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players.

Oleksy will be heading to Pittsburgh along with RW Josh Archibald, C Jean-Sebastien Dea, D Tim Erixon, G Tristan Jarry, LW Kael Mouillierat, C Dominik Simon and RW Daniel Sprong for the rest of the big club’s playoff run.

The Penguins are on the road Friday for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pittsburgh holds a 2-1 series lead.

Tom Sestito (left) hopes his strong finish to the season earns him a return trip to the NHL or another season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Sestito (left) hopes his strong finish to the season earns him a return trip to the NHL or another season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Fred Adams | For Times Leader

By Tom Venesky

[email protected]

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky