Franchise cornerstone Pestuka returns for 6th season
Winston-Salem, NC – Jiri Pestuka, franchise record holder with 157 games played in Carolina, has re-signed for the 2022-2023 season. Along with Joe Cangelosi, Pestuka is one of just two players to partake in all five seasons of Thunderbirds hockey.
“Jiri brings a calming and veteran presence to our team,” said Head Coach Garrett Rutledge. “It’s great to have him again this season working hard to bring back a championship to Winston-Salem.”
Pestuka is the only Thunderbirds skater remaining from the team’s inaugural game, October 27th, 2017 in Danville. After finding his footing on a new team, Pestuka exploded for a hat trick just a week later, as the Thunderbirds made their Winston-Salem debut against the North Shore Knights.
“Winston Salem has [a] big part in my heart,” said Pestuka. “It is a beautiful city with [the] best fans in the league. When the flock packs the nest, it’s something amazing to play front of them. I’m more than happy to represent the Thunderbirds colors.”
The Prostejov, Czechia native went on to tally 42 points in 38 games that first season, good for 4th in team scoring. In the years since, Pestuka has racked up 36 goals and 70 assists for 106 points in his 157 Thunderbirds games.
Prior to joining the Thunderbirds in 2017, Pestuka was a workhorse for the Berlin River Drivers and a point-per-game-player in each of his first two FPHL (then FHL) seasons.
As a teenager, Pestuka learned the ropes with the Czech elite, joining future NHLer Dominik Simon for stints with the Czech U17 and U19 national teams.
In 2021-2022, Pestuka battled injury while anchoring the Thunderbirds blueline and powerplay. He led all Carolina defensemen in points with 24, and games played with 52.
“As a coach, having Jiri to lean on to log minutes and be a big factor in the success of our team is huge,” Rutledge continued. “It’s an absolute pleasure to have him back with us.”
On October 21st, Pestuka is set to play his 280th FPHL game as the Thunderbirds begin their season in Port Huron.