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Q&A: Toninato Talks Call-Up, Opportunity with Panthers

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Dominic Toninato is ready for Round 2 with the Florida Panthers.

Starting the season with AHL Springfield, the 25-year-old registered four goals and two assists in 12 games with the Thunderbirds before earning his first call-up to the Panthers on Nov. 6. In three games with the big club, he notched one goal before being sent back down on Nov. 11.

Then, exactly one week later, he was right back on a plane heading down to South Florida after being recalled for a second time on Nov. 18. In his first game back, he finished with a plus-one rating and a career-high 13:24 of ice time during Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It's great [to be back in the NHL]," he said before the game. "I went down [to the AHL], played a couple games, had some points and got better. I'm excited to be back and get going again."

No stranger to playing in the NHL, Toninato suited up in 39 games over parts of two seasons with Colorado prior to be traded to Florida in June. With the Avalanche, the 6-foot-2, 191-pound native of Duluth, Minn., had one goal and two assists while averaging 7:50 of ice time per game.

Dating back to training camp, Joel Quenneville has been impressed with Toninato's skillset.

"We felt that he brought a lot of pace to his game," the Panthers head coach said. "I think he's got real intelligence in his purpose around the rink. He can kill penalties, take faceoffs, can play that checking role, which he was doing down in Springfield. When he came up here, I thought he did a really good job. He didn't get a long look, but he got an opportunity at the right time, and now here he is. He got rewarded by how he's playing."

Following Wednesday's practice at the Panthers IceDen, Toninato sat down with FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive to talk about his recent call-up, career path and his expectations for the rest of the season.

OLIVE: So how good does it feel to be back here in South Florida with the Panthers?

TONINATO: It feels awesome. The goal is obviously to be here. It's good to be back. Hopefully I can make it permanent.

OLIVE: After how well you played during your first three-game stint last week, do you feel like you left a good impression on the organization when you were sent back to the AHL?

TONINATO: For sure. I thought we played well as a line. I thought we had some really good shifts. Luckily I got that goal, which builds some confidence. That's huge and something you need moving forward.

Video: FLA@NYR: Toninato buries the rebound for a 2-1 lead

OLIVE: What was it liked to be recalled so soon after you'd just been sent back down?

TONINATO: It was awesome. It was a quick stint down there. It's good to be back and good to be playing again.

OLIVE: How much do you think your time in Springfield has helped your own game?

TONINATO: The team's awesome down there. We've been playing well and off to a good start. They've got a great coaching staff and trainers there. The staff there is awesome. They helped me develop and grow my game. It's definitely a good spot for guys to keep getting better.

OLIVE: You were a fifth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012, but never signed with them. After that, you got your first taste of the NHL with Colorado. Now in the midst of your third professional season, how would you chart your career path thus far?

TONINATO: I think it's come a long way from my first season. Coming out of college, you don't really know what to expect. You're a new guy, a rookie. You're just trying to figure out the game and the lifestyle, I guess. It's come a long way and it continues to grow. That's what you've got to do if you want to stay.

OLIVE: How much of that grind is mental?

TONINATO: It's huge, especially for the position that I'm in. Going back and forth [from the AHL to the NHL] can really take a toll on you. You've got to stay as positive as you can and take it a day at a time. You've got to try and have fun with it because hockey's such a fun game. If you're not having fun, things probably aren't going to go your way.

OLIVE: You've been racking up the frequent flyer miles over the last month. Were the emotions riding higher during your first or second flight down to Fort Lauderdale?

TONINATO: It was pretty similar, but I'd probably say the first because, well, it's the first. Being able to throw the Panthers sweater on for the first time in a regular-season game is special. I'd say a little bit more excitement the first time, but it's definitely exciting every time.

OLIVE: You briefly mentioned your college career earlier. How special was it to play for -- and eventually captain -- your hometown team at the University of Minnesota-Duluth?

TONINATO: It was awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better hometown. I played there my whole career except for one year in juniors when I went out to Fargo [in the USHL]. But even then I wasn't too far away. I came back for college and got to play in front of my hometown. It was really special growing up and being able to play there. I wouldn't change it.

OLIVE: What did you major in while attending UMD?

TONINATO: I got my degree in business management.

OLIVE: What interested you about that field?

TONINATO: I just like the business side of things. I'm a leader. I kind of like being in charge, so I went into management. Two of my roommates were also going for that major too, so we got to take all the same classes. It worked out.

OLIVE: You father, Jim, also played hockey at UMD for four seasons. How much of an impact did he have on you eventually wanting to become a professional hockey player?

TONINATO: I think both him and my mom played a big role. They had me on skates before I could walk. I got my first pair and then they were holding me up out there. I fell in love with the game early. There's something special about Duluth. You've got all the outdoor rinks and you play in your little community. I spent my winters out there all the time with all my neighborhood buddies. I think it was awesome. Both of my parents had a big impact on that.

OLIVE: Have you parents made it to a Panthers game yet?

TONINATO: They haven't been down here yet, but they've seen a lot of games. Actually, my mom and sister were supposed to come out to Springfield this weekend, so they had to change their plans. They want to come down here, so hopefully they'll be able to make it soon.

OLIVE: You've previously played hockey in places like Minnesota, North Dakota and Colorado. I know it's only been a few games, but how special is it to play in Florida?

TONINATO: It's definitely different coming to the rink in shorts and a T-shirt every day [Laughs]. It's awesome. The sun's awesome. Being able to be outside constantly is great. It' really nice. I can't complain.

OLIVE: Have you had any time to explore the area at all yet?

TONINATO: I haven't done anything too crazy yet. The girlfriend and pup are coming down here, so I'm sure once they get here they'll get me out of the hotel. After that we'll do a little more exploring.

OLIVE: I've got to know more about your dog!

TONINATO: I love her. Her name's Ruby, and she's such a good dog. She's about a year-and-half old now. She's a mini goldendoodle. They're a great breed. There's a few on this team.

OLIVE: We've talked a bit about your own individual path and goals, but what does it mean to be a part of this Panthers team as they work to become a regular contender?

TONINATO: This is a special team. This is a team that can make a lot of noise. It's special to be a part of. Hopefully things can keep rolling. You've just got to get into the playoffs. Anything can happen once you're there. Hopefully we can make the playoffs and then see what happens.

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