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No place like home

October 12. 2013 2:37AM

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Tom Kostopoulos has played in home openers in major NHL venues such as the Bell Centre in Montreal, the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Saddledome in Calgary.

So how does tonight’s home opener at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre compare?

“It’s still exciting,” Kostopoulos said. “You spend a long time getting ready for this and it’s fun to play in front of our fans.”

The Penguins, off to a 1-0 start after a 5-2 win over Bridgeport on the road, open their home schedule tonight against the rival Hershey Bears. Both teams have seen quite a bit of turnover since last season, but history assures that the rivalry will be just as intense as the get together for the first of 12 meetings.

Last year the Bears won the regular season series with a 7-3-2-0 record against the Penguins, but this year’s Hershey team is without key performers such as Jon DiSalvatore, Boyd Kane, Steven Oleksy and Braden Holtby. Likewise, the Penguins have lost top scorers Trevor Smith, Chad Kolarik and Riley Holzapfel along with goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.

Those changes, however, will do little to dampen the rivalry.

“It’s an exciting time to get the season kicked off at home, and the fact its against one of our arch-rivals makes it a more exciting game,” said head coach John Hynes. “A Saturday, the home opener and Hershey - hopefully we’ll have a real loud crowd.”

The Hershey rivalry didn’t always exist during the 15-year history of the Penguins franchise. Kostopoulos, who played on the Penguins inaugural team in 1999 and for a few seasons after, recalls the now-defunct Philadelphia Phantoms were the team to target years ago.

“Philly had a big, tough team and we had a big, tough team. Those games were deadly,” he said. “You had to do your chinstrap up tightly for those games.

“Now it’s evolved into Hershey, and I’m sure they’re as excited about it as we are.”

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