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Rocket: Matt Taormina, venerable veteran

The 31-year-old blue-liner leads all AHL defensemen with 11 points in eight games

by Vincent Régis, translated by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

LAVAL - The only thing that's really changed for Matt Taormina since last year is that he's been spending his Fall working on his language skills.  

"It's been a pretty smooth transition to Laval; the management, coaches and other players help us a lot," affirmed Taormina, who says he can speak a few words thanks to five years of French class in high school.

Linguistic ability aside, the 31-year-old defenseman has provided exactly what the Habs brass was hoping he would offer when they signed him to a two-year, two-way contract on July 1: a steady contribution on offense - he's the team's current points leader - and experience - close to 500 AHL games' worth, along with 59 at the NHL level.

That said, Rocket head coach Sylvain Lefebvre believes he can be doing even more.

"He had a long season last year [he made it all the way to the Calder Cup final with the Syracuse Crunch] and he got married this summer," said Lefebvre, who named Taormina one of his three assistant captains [the team is currently without a captain]. "I'm not saying he's not in top shape, but he can get better as we go.

"He's a guy who's seen a lot, he has a lot of experience. He's not afraid to speak up and to pass on his experience and expertise as an offensive-defenseman and as a leader in the group."

Matt Taormina Taormina leads all AHL defensemen with 11 points in eight games

The undrafted rearguard had a career season last year and was named the AHL's top defenseman after collecting 60 points (15G, 45A) in 70 games with Syracuse, the Tampa Bay Lightning's top affiliate. He added 20 points (5G, 15A) in 22 playoff games, which ended with the Crunch losing in six games in the final.

In his first eight games of the season, Taormina recorded 11 points (1G, 10A) and is in a four-way tie for second place in AHL scoring - and is tops among defensemen.

Without a doubt, the blue-liner seems to have picked up where he left off last June - even if he asserts he is not overly concerned with repeating his feats from the year before.

"I always take things day-by-day. I reached some personal highs last year and it's normal to say, 'I need to do even better.' But it's not necessarily the case, because it doesn't always happen," stated Taormina, who said he wants to improve his overall game above all. "I want to have a good year and play well defensively. Last year, I maybe didn't have as many defensive responsibilities. This year, I have a lot more responsibility in the defensive zone. It's something I want to make sure I'm working on. I want to be more solid in my own end. I want them to think of me when they need to send someone out in a critical situation. I want to be better defensively."

Matt Taormina Taormina has earned at least a point in seven of eight games for the Rocket this season

All that, of course, while maintaining his goal of one day getting called up by the big club.

"I know my role: I'm a puck-moving defenseman who can make plays, create scoring chances, get points. But at the other end of the ice, I need to be solid defensively, to be able to play against their best players," outlined Taormina, who previously played 47 games with the New Jersey Devils and suited up for another nine with the Lightning between 2010 and 2016. "If I get a chance in Montreal, I have to be able to hold my own defensively.

"It's always on my mind - playing well enough to get a call-up and get a shot. But it's not a huge preoccupation for the moment, that was more the case earlier in my career. At the moment, I'm focusing on what I'm doing here, how I'm playing, how I can help the team succeed and go far in the playoffs - like I was able to do last year. You always want to be able to play a few games in the NHL, but I'm not making much of it right now."

While he waits for his turn to come, Taormina is rooting for the guys who have already gotten their call from the powers that be.

"It's really great to see [Nikita] Scherbak and [Michael] McCarron get their chance," concluded Taormina, ever the savvy vet. "I hope they're able to make the most of it."

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