NASHVILLE – Being an NHL player in Belarus, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League during the lockout, could get lonely. Just ask Joe Pavelski, who suited up in 17 games for Dinamo Minsk, and returned to the States just before Christmas.
“There were moments on that trip that were good, and there were moments where you obviously miss home and your family,” Pavelski said on Tuesday morning. “But, having people around made it a little easier.”
Pavelski is referring to Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who played in 22 games for Dinamo. The two stayed at the same hotel, and were virtually inseparable during their adventure abroad.
As a result, they are now close friends. In fact, when the Predators were in San Jose earlier this month, Pavelski and his family hosted Rinne for dinner.
“Away from the rink we went to lunch together, and dinner together. And breakfast,” Pavelski said with a smile. “Every cab to the rink, pretty much. We were on the same schedule for a couple months, so you get to know a guy pretty well.”
Rinne said: “We hung out a lot. Both of us, we stayed in a hotel and had plenty of time on our hands. We spent most of our free time off the ice together. He’s just a great guy, I really enjoyed playing with him.”
Pavelski and Rinne are both off to strong starts to the season. Pavelski has 14 points (6g, 8a) in 12 games, while Rinne is once again among the NHL’s top goaltenders with a 1.92 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 10 games.
Pavelski has said numerous times that playing overseas helped him stay sharp for the shortened NHL season. Rinne, who had less-than-stellar numbers with Dinamo, agreed.
“I think any time you get to play games it helps you,” Rinne said. “The game is a lot different, and it maybe took a little of time to get adjusted. I think the game conditioning-wise, and all that stuff, I think it was a really good thing to play over there. It was a great experience just to see different culture and different kind of hockey.”
He had never met Pavelski before the Sharks’ forward signed with Dinamo.
“It was a great experience. Joe’s a great guy,” Rinne said.
Pavelski was impressed by Rinne’s skill set, despite the goaltender posting just a 9-11-2 record with a 3.08 goals-against average. He likened it to playing with Ryan Miller in the 2010 Olympics for Team USA, saying, “you don’t realize how good he is until you see him in practice every day.”
Just in case he had forgotten, Pavelski got a pretty good reminder on Feb. 2 at HP Pavilion. Rinne, a Finland native, made 26 saves in regulation and helped his team capture the extra point in a 2-1 shootout win, stopping Pavelski’s wrist shot in the tiebreaker to end the game.