Penguins right winger Patric Hornqvist goes way back with center Nick Spaling. As prospects in the Predators' system, they were linemates with the Milwaukee Admirals as far back as 2008-09.
They've been friends for nearly a decade.
The only problem is they're no longer teammates.
The Penguins dealt Spaling to the Maple Leafs last offseason as part of the trade which brought right winger Phil Kessel to the Penguins. in the midst of yet another re-building project, the Maple Leafs dealt Spaling to the Sharks prior to this season's trade deadline. Starting tomorrow, they'll be competing against one another in the Stanley Cup Final.
"Obviously you're always happy for your friends to be successful," said Hornqvist. "But when you play against him, he's not your friend anymore.”
Spaling has found a role on the Sharks' fourth line and has been one of the team's top penalty killers.
“He's just a smart hard-working player," said Hornqvist. "He always showed up. He's never going to have a bad game because he works so hard. You know what you'll get from him every single night. He's a good role player and he's been really good for them.”
Roughly 11 months after being dealt from an underachieving Penguins team which lasted only five games in the postseason to a re-building Maple Leafs team with no hopes of even reaching the postseason, Spaling is four wins away from the Stanley Cup.
Today, he talked about the past year.
What have the past 11 months been like?
"It's been a little bit of a crazy ride to get here I think. Obviously if you asked at the start of the year, where you thought you'd end up, this would have been beyond expectations for me. It's been a crazy year. I got traded in the offseason obviously from here to Toronto, close to home. That was exciting in its own way. Then to get traded again, you don't know where you're going to end up. And to join a team like this is great. And to end up in the [Stanley Cup] Finals is a dream come true."
What did you make of the one season you spent with the Penguins?
“It was a lot of fun. Obviously, it's a great team. It was a fun year. I think we didn't play as well as we could have when it mattered and that's what it comes down to.”
Did you anticipate being traded by the Penguins?
"I think any time you don't reach the expectations the team has set out, the team has got to make moves. I think this team has shook things up a lot. I got traded to Toronto which is mixed emotions obviously. I got to go close back to home which is new for me.”
The Maple Leafs clearly are in a rebuilding project. Was it difficult being on a team like that?
"I think we actually played better than a lot of people thought. It's a team that obviously they've got a plan and they're sticking to it. I think they're bringing in a lot of great pieces and they're building like they said they would. It was a lot of fun to play there. For me, being lucky, being close to home, it's the team that I grew up watching. I enjoyed my time.”
What was it like going from a rebuilding project to the Sharks, a team with legit Stanley Cup hopes?
"You never know. Obviously, being in the last year of a contract, we knew a trade was possible and to be able to join a team like this and end up here, it's what every player wants. I definitely got lucky and very fortunate to be here. … Obviously at the time of year and the position Toronto was in, it made sense to for them to start trading players and get draft picks and whatever they can in their situation. You end up on a team like this, really fortunate to be here and to end up in the [Stanley Cup] Finals, you can't ask for anything more than this."
What's your role with the Sharks?
"I want to create some energy. We want to play the puck. We want to play a heavy game and just do what we can to contribute offensive, defensively and help the team win."
(Photos: Harry How/Getty Images)