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Taormina back in familiar position with Syracuse Crunch

Four years after helping lead the Lightning's AHL affiliate to the Calder Cup Finals, the defenseman has done it again

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Four years ago, Matt Taormina was an offensively-gifted defenseman helping lead the Syracuse Crunch to a Calder Cup Finals berth against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The more things change, the more they stay the same apparently.

The Crunch are back in the Cup Finals facing the same opponent that defeated them 4-2 in the best-of-seven series back in 2013. And Taormina is back on the blue line for the Crunch, providing leadership, defensive prowess and an uncanny knack for finding the score sheet.

Taormina is the lone holdover on the Crunch roster from the one that came oh-so-close to winning the American Hockey League's version of the Holy Grail. In 2013, the Crunch fell into a 3-0 hole before winning the next two games. After two games of the 2017 Calder Cup Finals, the Crunch are down 2-0 and hoping to avoid a similar fate.

That's where Taormina and his experience from the previous Cup Finals can provide a big boost for a Syracuse squad looking to get back into the series on home ice. Taormina was a Crunch-best plus-19 during the 2013 postseason, and he brings 49 games of Calder Cup Playoff participation, including 18 games from that past Calder Cup run, into tonight's Game 3.

Video: Syracuse Crunch players talk Game 3 vs. Grand Rapids

"A lot of guys don't have playoff experience, especially going this far," Taormina said. "We do have other guys who have won it and who also lost it as well on different teams, but, yeah, we're just trying to bring everybody together and just tell them, 'Relax, take it game by game and that's how it is.'"

Taormina has been taking it game by game this season and, consequently, put up career numbers. He finished the regular season setting new career highs for goals (15), assists (45) and points (60), tying for the AHL lead for scoring among defensemen. He won the Eddie Shore Award as the league's outstanding defenseman, was selected for the AHL All-Star Classic - his third-straight All-Star nod - and was a First Team AHL All-Star pick at the end of the regular season.

Taormina's numbers haven't dipped in the playoffs either. He's currently tied for third on the Crunch for playoff scoring - and first among Crunch defensemen - with four goals, 12 assists and 16 points.

"It's been one of those seasons to never forget," Taormina said. "But with all those awards, there's still one more trophy, one more hardware to try to win and that's what we're focusing on now.

Taormina said he's "matured" since his Calder Cup experience four years ago. He made his Tampa Bay Lightning debut during the 2013-14 season, playing in seven games with the Bolts before being traded along with Dana Tyrell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jonathan Marchessault and Dalton Smith. After signing a one-year AHL contract with the Worcester Sharks for the 2014-15 season, Taormina returned to the Lightning organization as a free agent signing prior to the 2015-16 season. He played in three games that season with Tampa Bay and three more games in the playoffs during the Bolts' return to the Eastern Conference Final.

Video: Calder Cup game breakdown

He was called up to the Lightning at various points this season but never got into a game.

"I feel like I've learned a lot in those four years and just kind of learned how to play the game a little bit better, a little bit smarter and trying to prolong the season," Taormina said. "Other than that, it's pretty much the same thing day in and day out and you just become a little bit more of a leader and have to bring other guys up with you."

The Crunch coaching staff has taken notice of Taormina's developed leaderships skills as well. Taormina was named a permanent alternate captain late in the regular season.

"He wears an A for a reason," said Crunch forward Cory Conacher, who leads the AHL for playoff scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists. "He takes care of the D pretty well in terms of leadership. He's a guy that can score big goals for us, make big plays for us and that's what we need. He's been pretty consistent throughout the whole year. You know what you're going to get from him, and it's nice to have a guy like that, especially on the power play because power plays have been a key factor in playoffs.

"He's a guy we can look toward to make the big play or score a big goal for us. Hopefully, he continues to do that throughout the rest of the series and we can get some goals on the power play and some momentum off of that."

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