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Twice the fun

Shortly after exchanging vows, Matt and Katie Taormina found out where hockey was taking them next

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

MONTREAL - Less than 24 hours after tying the knot on June 30 in Michigan, Matt and Katie Taormina had another reason to celebrate.

This time it was because Matt had agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way contract with the Canadiens shortly after the unrestricted free agent period opened on Canada Day.

It marked the first time that the 30-year-old defenseman had inked a multi-year deal since signing a two-year entry-level contract with the New Jersey Devils back in 2009-10.

After that, five straight one-year contracts followed. 

Putting pen to paper this time around was unquestionably a welcome change for the undrafted rearguard, who claimed the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's most outstanding defenseman during his third straight All-Star campaign. 

"It was huge for both of us. We never expected something like that, especially going on so many one-year deals and getting up there in age and being a veteran," said Taormina, who just wrapped up his ninth AHL season in June, patrolling the blue line for the Syracuse Crunch. "You wonder sometimes - 'Am I going to have to leave to go overseas?' It just starts creeping up in your mind. Obviously, for this to happen for us was big. It was really nice to have some stability, especially before we started thinking about having kids. It really helps out." 

Taormina secured the deal after finishing the regular season tied for the league lead among AHL defensemen with 60 points (15g - 45a) in 70 games - including 32 points (8g - 24a) on the power play - before chipping in with 20 points (5g - 15a) in 22 playoff outings during the club's run to the Calder Cup Finals where they fell to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The Warren, MI native believes several factors played a part in helping him compile his most productive pro season to date with career highs in all three major offensive categories.

"I know the coaching staff gave me a lot of leeway last season. I made mistakes, but they knew I could bounce back from things and they didn't have to tell me too much. They just let me play my game," shared Taormina, referencing the work of Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx and assistants Jeff Halpern and Trent Cull. "I also had tremendous teammates, a lot of times just giving them the puck and they did pretty good as well. Cory Conacher. Yanni Gourde. I was kind of lucky. I think after having that year, I definitely had a little more confidence to think - 'Yeah, I can stick around and still play at this high level.'"

The Providence College product also attributes much of his recent success to his new bride.

"The past three years, Katie has been living with me. It's a huge help. I'm not going home and dwelling on a lot of things and letting them eat me up inside. After she graduated, she moved out with me in Worcester, and then she was with me the last two years in Syracuse," said Taormina, a veteran of 439 career AHL games. "I think that just changed my mindset a little bit. I wasn't going to let little things flip my game."

Taormina is coming into training camp with that same approach, eager to see what his hockey future has in store.

"I just hope to come in and keep playing the same way I've always been playing. I'm not going to deviate, whether I land up there in Montreal or not," insisted Taormina, who boasts 59 career NHL games on his resume - 47 with New Jersey and 12 with Tampa Bay. "But, I'm coming in there to make the team. If that doesn't happen, I'll go down to Laval and do whatever I can to help."

Taormina's last taste of NHL action came on May 3, 2016 when he suited up for the Lightning in a second-round playoff matchup against the New York Islanders. Ironically, his last regular-season start came on April 9, 2016 at the Bell Centre. 

That has Taormina extra keen on making every chance to strut his stuff in front of the Canadiens' brass count.

"I know I haven't played that many games in the NHL in a while, so you kind of stand back and look back and go - 'O.K. When I get my shot, I'll try to take it.' I'm happy with everything in the AHL, but it's the NHL. I'd love to play there and have an opportunity," concluded Taormina. "Putting on this jersey has been one of the things I've always dreamed about, so to get in some games there would be unbelievable."

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