The first time you put on an NHL sweater in a regular-season game is not just a memorable day for you and all the hard work you put into it, but for so many important people in your life. It is about your Mom and Dad and your sisters and brothers. It is about your other relatives and your friends as well. It is a team accomplishment.
Some players have it a lot easier than others. Some are highly-touted draft picks that get a chance right off the hop, no questions asked. Some players spend years in the minors, only dreaming of that opportunity that may or may not come. They play game after game in the minors, hop on busses and play again. They wonder if there are scouts in the stands, and if they are watching. Does the big team know how well you are playing? Will I get a sniff?
Josh Tordjman will never forget Sunday as he played in his first NHL game after nearly four full seasons in the American Hockey League. He played real well in a 3-2 loss on Long Island, making 23 saves as all three goals against came during the second period, all at even strength. He battled hard and received a solid defensive effort as the Coyotes outshot the Islanders 42-26.
For Tordjman, it was the much-needed reward for keeping his head down, working his tail off and being a great teammate in the AHL. When Mikael Tellqvist was traded to Buffalo last week, it opened the door to the NHL for the 24-year-old Tordjman, who started his pro career as a walk-on with the Nashville Predators organization. He left them during a prospects camp, and notified them he was leaving for Phoenix, as the Coyotes were offering him a contract.
He had performed well in his four training camps, but got the short end of the straw as the Coyotes had veterans Curtis Joseph, Tellqvist, Alex Auld and now the starter, Ilya Bryzgalov.
Goaltending coach Grant Fuhr has been closely monitoring Tordjman and in his first full practice with the team in Boston, the young goalie struggled, trying way too hard to stop the puck, often ending up on his back in an effort to impress. He settled down in his next practice and looked good the day before his first start.
He has tremendous lateral movement, staying low in his crouch with his legs spread in a “V” as he gets down to ice level in a hurry. He communicates well with his defensemen, always motioning where the puck is, if there is an open man and sometimes to get out of the way!
The first shot he faced was a shorthanded effort from 40 feet that he kicked aside with plenty of confidence, a good way to start the game. A much better way to start your NHL career than I had, that’s for sure!
I started in Minnesota a week after I turned 21 years old.
The first shot I faced went in. It was Curt Giles, not a noted goal scorer. I gave up four goals and lost 4-1. I lost my lunch before the game. I was so nervous, but all fired up.
Tordjman, on the other hand, was calm, cool and under control as he got on the team bus departing for the game. I sat beside him as he spoke in French to his family back in Quebec. He then put the Ipod in and listened to some tunes. Little did he know that his father, Lucien, was en route to the game and would surprise him afterward! How good is that? I know it would have been much better if it was a win, but the moment is the key. To share a hug with Dad, and have him make the effort to get there after finding out the night before at 9 p.m. To see his eyes and his pride is what it is all about.
For Josh Tordjman and his family, he worked hard on a dream. As a goalie that spent three hard seasons of pro hockey in the International Hockey League and the AHL before getting a legitimate chance to play, I feel great for him, and proud of him.
My first pro coach, Cliff Koroll, told me the day I was recalled to the NHL to “shut the door” behind you. Don’t give the management and coaches an excuse to send you back. Josh Tordjman has the ball now. It is up to him to keep it and if first impressions mean anything, this is a very solid start. He endears himself to his teammates. They want to play hard for him. He gets it.
I cheer hard for guys like Josh. Why wouldn’t I?