Montreal Canadiens rookie defenceman Jarred Tinordi was told the opportunity was his for the taking.
He’s certainly made the most of it.
Called up for the second time this year just before the end of the regular season to help fill a physical void on the Montreal blue-line, Tinordi has looked more veteran than new recruit in his latest stint.
“The biggest thing for me is the first time around I think I was playing not to make a mistake. I was playing a bit hesitant that way,” Tinordi said on Saturday before the Habs travelled to Ottawa to continue their Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Senators. “This time, I just made up my mind. This is a great opportunity to come up with two games left and get a chance to play in the playoffs.
“I just wanted to give it everything I had and play hard.”
The six-foot-six, 205-pound Tinordi played six games with Montreal in March, picking up his first NHL point in his big-league debut. But in the outings that followed, his ice time dropped, hitting single-digit minutes in his final two games before the team returned him to its American Hockey League affiliate in Hamilton.
He finished the season with the Bulldogs and was set to rejoin the Canadiens as part of their group of scratches in time for the playoffs. But with the team struggling on the back end with the injury to Alexei Emelin in early April, he was back a few days earlier than scheduled.
“When he was recently called up, it was no longer a question of development — it was a matter of opportunity. That’s the message I gave him. You’re the kind of defenceman we’re looking for and that we need. Take that opportunity,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “He went down (to Hamilton) and worked hard. We’re seeing a different young man from his first time here. You can see he’s more confident.”
While defenceman typically take longer develop than forwards, Tinordi has stood out for more than his towering frame in his first professional season.
“Most guys at that size, they give up mobility and skating but he doesn’t. His ability to pivot on pucks and keep his gap makes him a hell of a hockey player,” Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges said.
And although just 21, the son of former NHL blue-liner Mark Tinordi, has shown he isn’t afraid to get mixed up in physical play. That was clear in Game 2 against the Senators on Friday, one which saw him matched up often against veteran Ottawa winger Chris Neil.
“He’s got a lot of heart and a lot of character. With his style of game, that’s what he has to do — and he’s all right with that,” said Gorges. “He’s not going to back down from anybody, he’s not going to step aside. He’s going to play that in-your-face, physical style and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against.”
Ottawa and Montreal are tied 1-1 in the series after the Canadiens evened things up with a 3-1 victory on Friday. Game 3 goes Sunday night at Scotiabank Place, with Game 4 set for Tuesday.
Tinordi is the latest member of the Canadiens’ young corps to make his mark this season, following in the footsteps of forwards Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, who cracked the roster out of training camp.
Gallagher leads Montreal with two goals through two games against Ottawa, while Galchenyuk is tops with a pair of assists. Tinordi hasn’t hit the scoresheet but has only been on the ice for one goal against (out of five) in two games.
“They’re able to have success because during the regular season, Gallagher and Galchenyuk progressed. A guy like Tinordi didn’t waste his time in Hamilton. He developed well. It’s about character,” said Therrien. “I’ve always believed that you need to learn to walk before you can run. Let’s say right now we’re asking them to walk a bit faster.”
One of the Canadiens most consistent players in the regular season, Gallagher hasn’t stopped in the playoffs. Gorges, who has taken his fellow British Columbia native under his wing and his roof, isn’t surprised that the 20-year-old’s play has seamlessly carried over into the playoffs.
“His emotion that he brings every day, it’s hard to match. He’s one of those special players that night in, night out, it doesn’t change — his effort’s always going to be there,” he said. “I told him after Game 1, even though we lost and weren’t happy with losing, ’You’re built for the playoffs. You’re built for this type of hockey.“’
“And he is, because he’s got that competitive spirit. He wants to win, he wants to be a difference-maker and he’s willing to do all the dirty things to succeed.”
After missing Friday’s game with respective upper-body injuries, Canadiens wingers Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta both skated with the team’s extras on Saturday. Therrien says the pair travelled with the team to Ottawa but remain day-to-day.