Defenseman Taormina a Valuable Asset for Crunch

By Jeremy Houghtaling

It’s tough for Matt Taormina to sit out.

The Syracuse Crunch defenseman, who battled an injury throughout the team’s run to the Calder Cup Finals last season, was not pleased that he had to be scratched from the lineup earlier this month.

"I probably could have waited another week or so (to return), because that's what the doctors had said," Taormina said. "But after the first game, and being around the guys in practice and stuff like that, I felt that I could get back at it earlier than they thought."

Seeing Taormina sit out was equally as difficult for Crunch coach Rob Zettler. Taormina has become an integral part of the blue line for Syracuse since his arrival last season, and the 27-year-old veteran's calm, patient demeanor comes in handy in all situations.

"When he didn't play the first weekend, we really missed him," Zettler said. "He's a very valuable asset for us. He was a priority to get resigned last summer."

Taormina has registered a point in all six games since returning to the lineup. His nine points are second on the team to forward Nikita Kucherov, who leads the league in power play goals (four) and points for a rookie (11).

Listed at 5-10 and not overly physical, the Michigan native uses his swift feet to control the play.

"His biggest asset is his skating ability and how efficient he is through the neutral zone and in the zone, skating-wise," Zettler said. "A lot of guys could learn from what he does and how he moves his feet."

"That's always been kind of my game, is being able to read situations and move the puck ... I'm not big, physical or run guys through the boards," said Taormina, who went undrafted but has racked up 49 NHL games over the past three seasons. "So I need to bring something else to the table."

Taormina's game really started to mature at Providence College. In his four seasons there, he had 65 points in 141 games and was an All-Hockey East Honorable Mention.

"In college I didn't really sprout up until my junior year, I was finally getting recognition and finally able to put up points and do the right things there," Taormina said.

Taormina's play during his junior season earned him a look at Chicago rookie camp, but nothing more. But by the end of his senior season, where he put up 20 points in 34 games, Taormina had teams from all over the East Coast calling.

He ended up signing a tryout with Binghamton, but was let go and went unsigned after 11 games.

Taormina spent three years going between the AHL and NHL in the New Jersey Devils organization before departing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Taormina chose the team because of a link with Jon Cooper, who coached Taormina for one season with Texarkana of the NAHL, which helped him get a shot with Providence.

"I was real happy with the Devils organization for what they did for me, giving me a start," Taormina said. "But I thought it was time to move on. I've been in contact with Cooper throughout college, he liked me and treated me well in Texarkana. He was calling me and telling me about the team and how the guys were, and he thought I'd be a great fit."

No matter the team -- whether its Texarkana, Tampa Bay or any other city in-between -- Taormina just wants to be contributing on the ice.

"I've been hurt throughout my career at times, and it sucks just sitting around and watching the team be as successful as they are without being a part of it," Taormina said. "Even though they're successful, you cheer for that, but on the other hand you want to be a part of it."