By Matt Calamia
While the marquee outside Madison Square Garden will read Rangers vs. Penguins, there will be also be a family affair taking place inside the arena, as New York assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson will be facing his son, Philip, a defenseman for Pittsburgh.
“It’s very weird,” said a smiling Philip inside the Penguins’ dressing room at Madison Square Garden following the team’s morning skate. “It’s the first time I’ve ever played against him, so we’ll see how it is. It’s pretty cool playing against him.”
The Penguins, who have been decimated by injuries or suspensions to their top-four defensemen, recalled the 22-year-old earlier this week. He made his NHL debut Monday night, which Ulf watched from inside CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“It was a pretty cool feeling to watch him get a few strides in there,” the elder Samuelsson told reporters Tuesday afternoon at the Rangers’ training facility.
Ulf Samuelsson, who joined the Rangers coaching staff this summer, spent parts of five seasons with Pittsburgh before being acquired by the Rangers prior to the 1995-96 season. He wore No. 5 throughout most of his career, and his son wears No. 55.
“I think his knowledge is pretty limitless,” the younger Samuelsson said of his father. “He’s still around the game, seen it evolve from when he played it. He still gives me advice to this day, so I probably wouldn’t be here without his help.”
Ulf said there are similarities between the father and son, but that Philip has the edge is some areas.
“He’s a modernized version of what I was,” he said, adding his son is a better passer. “Obviously, you defend with different methods nowadays than when I played. You’ve got to be a lot better on your skates and quick.”
While the two have worked together leading up to this point, Wednesday will make the first time they face each other in a game. Ulf, who coached his other son, Henrik, in Sweden, said it may actually be easier to coach against a child than be their coach.
“I think I’ve gone through the hard part with my family,” he said, jokingly, before adding “I’m sure I’ll throw the odd glimpse on the ice if he’s playing.”
Philip had more plans.
“I think in the second period I’ll try and get him with a water bottle squirt,” he said jokingly. “Other than that, I think I’ll just try and focus on the game.”