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Toninato Has Opportunity With Avs

Minnesota Duluth's captain signed with Colorado as a college free agent

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

When it comes to college free agents on the NHL's open market, deciding where to sign is more often about the opportunity to play and grow as a hockey player than location or money.

Sometimes coming home or playing for one's childhood favorite team is appealing, but with young players only able to make so much on entry-level contracts, having the best chance to make it to the NHL is usually what drives the decision-making process.

University of Minnesota Duluth alum Dominic Toninato saw that chance to compete for a job with the Colorado Avalanche and took it, signing a two-year, entry-level contract with the team on Wednesday.

"Colorado had everything I wanted," Toninato said. "I felt the love from them, and I saw the opportunity there and jumped on it."

Picked by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Toninato made the tough decision to become an unrestricted free agent and find that right fit. He got it with the Avs.

Listen: Dominic Toninato speaks with Marc Moser on Altitude Sports Radio

At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Toninato knows starting out in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage is a real possibility, but the forward will be doing all he can to compete for an NHL roster spot when the Avalanche begins training camp next month.

"They're a young team and kind of rebuilding right now, so the opportunity was there," he said. "I don't know where I'm going to be at right away, but the main focus is camp and showing them everything I got."

The Duluth, Minnesota, native is coming off a solid four-year stint with the Bulldogs, as he scored 15 or 16 goals and had between 20 and 30 points in each of his last three campaigns. He finished 2016-17 with a career-high 29 points (16 goals and 13 assists) and had an outstanding showing during the National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament by scoring a goal in each of the school's four games en route to a championship.

Named the NCHC's best defensive forward last season, Toninato understands the importance of playing smart while also being hard on pucks That mindset should translate well to what the Avalanche is building toward.

"I take pride in a 200-foot game," Toninato said. "I think it all starts in the defensive zone and works its way up (the ice). I'm a playmaker, I can score, I love being out there in any situation, whether it is power play, penalty kill, last minute of the game, in any case. Just looking to have an impact and be one of the people they turn to."

He led the Bulldogs last year as the team captain in a season that had lots positives but also ended short of their ultimate goal to become national champions.

After trading positions with the University of Denver for the No. 1 ranking in the polls for much of the year, UMD entered the NCAA tournament fresh off its conference title and looking for the school's second national championship. A collision with the DU Pioneers seemed inevitable, and the two eventually clashed in the final game.

Denver ended up getting the best of Duluth to win the national title, but not before Toninato and the Bulldogs rallied in the third period to create some tense final minutes for the Pioneer faithful.

While Toninato and his teammates were unable to win that last game, coming back for his senior season and having a chance to be crowned a national champion was worth it for the center.

"The last two years we came a game short of making the Frozen Four. So that kind of stuck in my head of trying to get over the hump and try to win a national championship," Toninato noted.

"I loved every minute at Duluth and couldn't have asked for a better spot to play in my college career."

The Bulldogs improved each year during Toninato's time with the program, growing to one full of veteran leadership this past season. He'll look to help the Avalanche to that same type of progress.

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