By Matt Popchock
The Penguins’ stunning loss to Boston at the Consol Energy Center Monday night did have a bright spot.
Former Mount Lebanon defenseman, Florida Panthers draftee, and Pittsburgh native Matt Bartkowski made his NHL debut, wearing No. 43 for the Bruins. Fittingly, he got to play the first 9:53 of ice time and serve the first two penalty minutes in his career not far from the community where he cut his hockey teeth.
In the Blue Devils’ 2005-06 season he was overshadowed by such dynamic scorers as Tyler Murovich–another player thought to have NHL potential–and Shane Ferguson, but his 14 goals and 43 points (fourth-most on the team) made him one of the most complete players at his position in the PIHL. Bartkowski was one of many who played an instrumental role in Mount Lebanon’s run to the Class AAA Penguins and Pennsylvania Cups that year, which included a streak of eight straight shutouts, a perfect overall record, and notoriety as one of the greatest teams in western PA history.
Meanwhile, Bartkowski also played on the Pittsburgh Hornets travel team, where among his mentors were local entrepreneur Ralph Murovich, father of Tyler, and current Versus NHL analyst Eddie Olczyk. After a promising junior stint in the USHL led him to Ohio State University, Mount Lebanon retired Bartkowski’s No. 21 jersey in December 2008. While spending two seasons with the Buckeyes Bartkowski was drafted by the Florida Panthers, and less than a year ago he was traded to Boston in a multi-player deal for another D-man, Dennis Seidenberg.
Bartkowski is the 13th Pittsburgh native to play in the NHL and the seventh PIHL alumnus to do so, a list that includes current stars Ryan Malone and R.J. Umberger. He is the second former PIHL-er in the past three NHL seasons to debut in the League; Peters Township prospect Christian Hanson, son of “Slap Shot”‘s Dave Hanson, suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the penultimate week of the 2008-09 regular campaign.
(Special thanks to our friends at the MSA Sports Network and the PIHL for their contributions to this post.)