It’s difficult to imagine how a player with the scoring prowess of Rochester Americans forward Jamie Tardif would jump around from one American Hockey League city to another, but for the eight-year veteran, that has been just the case.
Luckily for the Amerks, Tardif brought his knack for scoring goals to Rochester this offseason, and he has never looked back.
Following the 2003 Under-18 World Championships, where he recorded five points in seven games for the gold medal-winning Team Canada, Tardif was drafted with the 112th overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames. Tardif went un-signed by the Flames, and elected to re-enter the NHL Draft in 2005, but went undrafted. Following professional try-out contracts with the Manitoba Moose and Iowa Stars in 2006-07, Tardif finally found a home with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. Despite moderate success with the Griffins, including a 27-goal season in 2010-11, Tardif admits his best hockey was yet to come.
“Detroit had so many skill players when I came up through that organization,” Tardif said. “I tried to be a little more physical, maybe drop the mitts a little bit more than I normally would.” Despite some physicality, Tardif would not return to Grand Rapids following his 27-goal campaign.
Instead, Tardif moved on to the Providence Bruins after signing a two-year contract with their parent club in Boston. While continuing to score goals the next two seasons, Tardif would eventually realize his dream of playing in the National Hockey League, skating in two games in 2012-13 for the Boston Bruins. He didn’t record a point, but notes that experience as “the highlight of my career so far”.
Tardif went on to record seven goals in 12 postseason games with Providence last season, but once again found himself without a hockey club this past summer. On August 5, he signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres, and eventually found himself down with the Amerks in time to start the 2013-14 season.
The adjustment to another new town didn’t start off easy for Tardif. Along with the difficulties of moving to a new city, Tardif recorded only two goals through his first 15 games with the Amerks. The forward attributes adjusting to a new schedule to being one of the biggest alterations he had had to make.
“Going from Providence to Rochester, one of the biggest things is the travel. Out on the east you play Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays every week, and it kind of gets a little monotonous and you get into a routine,” Tardif said. “It’s a different kind of schedule here, so it’s just getting your body used to a little more bus time and a little more travel, and so far I have adjusted pretty well.”
Even through Tardif’s lack of goals to start the season, Amerks head coach Chadd Cassidy knew it was only a matter of time before the veteran started showing the production that led him to a career-high 30-goal campaign in 2012-13.
“For any goal scorer, once they start putting pucks in the net, they tend to get hot like he is right now,” Cassidy said. “We were never really concerned about his game. It was really just a matter of time before he was going to start scoring.”
Eventually, Tardif put his scoring woes behind him, and the Amerks began winning more games leading to first-place contention in the AHL’s North Division throughout December. However, following injuries to Tardif and assistant captain Mike Zigomanis, along with the recall of captain Matt Ellis to the Sabres, the Amerks were struggling to even field a full team.
“Being a veteran player on the team, you want to see the boys win and you want to help them win,” Tardif said. “We obviously didn’t get the wins we were hoping for throughout that stretch, but the guys battled. At one point we had eight veterans in our lineup and then all of a sudden we were down to one with injuries and call-ups.”
Tardif finally returned to the Amerks on Jan. 17 against the Oklahoma City Barons following a nine-game absence and has a point in each game since hitting the ice again, including goals in four straight. Entering Friday night’s tilt against the Rockford IceHogs, Tardif sits third atop the Amerks scoring chart with 26 points (12+14) despite playing in only 28 games. A great deal of his success can be lent to the fact that he is willing to go to the tough areas of the ice to score goals.
“Offensively, he is a gifted guy, but he knows how to play the game and he knows where the scoring area is and that he’s got to be there in order to be successful,” Cassidy said. “We’ve shown our guys a lot of Jamie’s clips over the course of the year. If you want to score goals at this level or the next level, you’ve got to play in that [dirty] area.”
While Tardif has enjoyed his successes in the past, he believes he is playing the best hockey of his pro career right now with the Amerks.
“In the past, I tried to play a certain style, and as I have gotten older I’ve learned to pick my spots. Ultimately, that has made me a better player.”