Determined is the man from Rocky Mountain House.
Gritty and a little stubborn, too.
It’s had to be that way for Nick Tarnasky, who has helped infuse the Panthers with energy and toughness since being acquired Nov. 27 from Nashville.
Tarnasky, who grew up in the small town of Rocky Mountain House in Alberta, is a survivor. He’s an overachiever in the eyes of some, and it would be easy to understand why.
The 6-2, 227-pound Tarnasky was drafted with the 287th pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Lightning. Understand there were 292 players taken in that year’s draft.
Five picks from being the last player taken in the draft – referred in the National Football League as ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ - Tarnasky has been anything but an afterthought.
In fact, Tarnasky has played in more NHL games than any player taken from the sixth-through-ninth rounds of the 2003 Entry Draft. Since coming over from Nashville in exchange for Wade Belak, Tarnasky has averaged just under 10 minutes of ice time (9:33) and the Panthers are 6-2-1 with him in the lineup.
For Tarnasky, now in his fourth NHL season, not a lot has changed since he made his NHL debut in 2005-06. It’s been a fight since day one.
“It’s been a battle,” he said. “I mean, not being drafted in the Bantam draft, that actually got me to start working a little harder and realize I wasn’t going to have any gifts as far as my hockey career was going to go. So it pushed me to get invited to camps. Then, being a late round NHL draft pick, I could see eight kids in front of me just from that one year, and nine guys ahead of me from the year before. I just kept pushing harder because I knew a whole bunch of people were in front of me.”
When Tarnasky was acquired in November, GM Jacques Martin and coach Peter DeBoer both agreed Tarnasky would play more than Belak and would bring more speed. Tarnasky has done that, and he’s also supplied energy when on the ice. He has been all over the ice from the start. Registering hits and scoring chances in most of his games. Sunday night against the Canucks, he was a plus-one. He played with rookie Michal Repik
and Shawn Matthias
in last Monday’s 4-3 victory in Ottawa, registering four hits. And he hit the crossbar in the Panthers’ loss to Boston on December 6th.
“Basically, as my career has gone, that’s been part of my main role, and I think it’s a great opportunity for me to get in on the forecheck, stir up some battles in the corner, be hard on pucks and give guys like (Stephen Weiss
) and (Nathan) Horton and those guys who score the big goals some room,” he added.
Tarnasky has been playing hockey since he was a kid growing up in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, a town of about 7,000 people with the nearest big city being Red Deer 45 minutes away.
“I don’t even know if they have a Wal-Mart yet,” he said. His father would freeze the backyard every winter and the family would play hockey on part of their acre of land.
“Growing up in those cold winters it was something everybody did,” Tarnasky said. “Hockey became something for the family and we all liked it. On the weekends we could play and have three-on-three games.”
Those family games paid off. Brother Neil is playing AAA in Canada and sister Sam is playing at Williams College, where she led her team last season in points (21).
As for Nick? He’s keeps proving his worth every shift, every night.