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Where Are They Now? Ron Tugnutt

by David DiCenzo / Columbus Blue Jackets

The most diehard Blue Jackets' fans will remember the "Vote Tugnutt" ad campaign. While there's doubt as to how well Ron Tugnutt would have fared as leader of the free world – he did get some actual write-in votes in the presidential election – history tells us the 42-year-old native of Scarborough, Ontario was rock solid in net for the expansion Jackets during their inaugural season nine years ago.

Tugnutt, a diminutive puckstopper who relied on his guts as much as his skills, gave Columbus some legitimacy in its first go around in the NHL, posting an NHL goaltending record for expansion wins with 22.

The veteran knew what to expect coming to Ohio.

"I was brought in as a free agent and there was a little more pressure on me to perform," says Tugnutt, who now resides in Peterborough, Ontario with his wife Lisa and two sons Jacob and Matty. "I was excited about it."

The Jackets understandably got off to a rough start that year but it didn't take long to get moving in the right direction. As bizarre as it may have seemed at the beginning of the year, Columbus was playing good hockey down the stretch and competing for a post-season berth.

Tugnutt was a big part of the run.

"We started getting some things accomplished and (head coach) Dave King was working diligently on getting our group in order over the first month," Tugnutt recalls. "All of a sudden, we started to make some strides and gain a little confidence. That's when the year became really exciting. We found ourselves catching teams.

"The town got behind us. It was quite electrifying."

As a veteran of 537 NHL games played with eight different franchises, some of Tugnutt's fondest memories came while wearing the Columbus colors. He and his family fell in love with the area as soon as they went house hunting the summer before that first season.

Tugnutt says Columbus was a tremendous place to raise a young family and with how well things went on the ice that first year (22 wins, four shutouts, a 2.44 goals against average and .917 save percentage), it was an ideal situation.

"Really, I couldn't have imagined things going any smoother," he says. "The hockey was going great, we met a bunch of new friends and teammates. It came together so quickly. If I were to look back over my time there, from a playing standpoint, that was probably the best year I played.

"It would have been nice to finish out my career there rather than go to Dallas."

After finishing his second season in Columbus, Tugnutt went to the Stars, playing 42 combined games during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 season, before hanging up the skates. These days, he still likes to keep an eye on what the Jackets are doing, especially from a goaltending standpoint.

Tugnutt says that when he was in the game, he always paid attention to what young goalies were up to because they were the ones threatening his job. It's no different now. Tugger is well aware of Steve Mason.

"I love watching the young players play," he says. "Mase, he's a great young goalie. He's going to be great for a long time."

Tugnutt not only watches young goalies, he trains them, too. He's currently wearing a couple of working hats, including the title of goaltending coach for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. Tugnutt, who also coaches his youngest son Matty's minor bantam team in Peterborough, feels working with junior age kids is an incredible opportunity.

"It's a good level to work with because there's so much you can teach them," he says. "People ask me, 'Well what do you teach?' and I say well, first, I take a look at a goalie and see what he needs to learn. It's like a golf swing – you have certain points you need to hit a ball well. I have certain points with goalies that you need this, this and this to play your best. Once we start identifying what will give them a consistent game, as soon as we figure that out, we work on it and improve on it.

"You can't cut corners and you can't cheat. If you're going to do it, it's 100 percent, all the time."

Where Tugnutt feels he has most to offer is tackling the mental aspect of the game. He refers to himself as a "journeyman" who has pretty much experienced it all. Tugnutt relays all of those experiences to young goalies, trying to help them understand the sacrifice it takes to reach the next level.

"Every time you go through adversity, you're going to get stronger and better and every time you have success, you'll learn more," he says. "But to do that, your focus and preparation has to be second to none."

Tugnutt will also be relaying those messages to elite Canadian goaltenders. Last year, he was a goaltending consultant with Team Canada's Under-18 squad. His role with Hockey Canada has expanded this year – he accepted the job as goaltending coach for Team Canada when they host the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatchewan.

"Hockey Canada is first class," says Tugnutt. "They've treated me tremendously well.

"We're going to have the camp and evaluate which two goalies are going to lead Canada to hopefully a sixth straight gold medal, which has never been accomplished."

The young goaltenders that cross paths with Tugnutt would be smart to listen when he speaks. Though he might not have the Hall of Fame credentials of the greats like Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek or Martin Brodeur, Tugnutt enjoyed a pro career that many players would be envious of. He lasted a lot of years in the best league in the world, his two seasons in Columbus producing some of the best memories during that lengthy span.

If you ask the former Jacket netminder what enabled him to hang around so long his response is persistence, believing in yourself and being willing to change and evolve. It's no wonder that Columbus fans wanted to "Vote Tugnutt."

"I like to say if I was 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, I wouldn't have had to go through as much as I did, but at 5-foot-11 it felt like I had to play with a chip on my shoulder," Tugnutt says. "I had to prove on a daily basis that I belonged on that ice and I deserved to be where I was.

"There was a lot of pride in what I did. Unfortunately, I didn't get a Stanley Cup. The longevity is my trophy."

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