WINNIPEG — Jarred Tinordi got the call in Hamilton about 10 p.m. Tuesday night.
“Pack your bags,” he was told, “and get to Winnipeg.”
Two games from the end of the NHL season, with six games of big-league experience beneath his large blades, Tinordi is back with the Canadiens — and the proverbial puck is on his stick to stay with the Habs well beyond Thursday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.
“I definitely didn’t expect this,” the 21-year-old said Wednesday of the summons, freshly off the MTS Centre ice on which the Canadiens had just run through a spirited, even bruising 75-minute practice.
“But it’s definitely a good surprise.”
Tinordi, 6-foot-6 and 210 (at least) pounds, will be in the lineup Thursday. There will be no word from head coach Michel Therrien until after game-day morning skate on who comes out in his place.
And if Tinordi performs well, it’s possible — perhaps likely — that he’ll see action in the playoffs which begin next week.
Tinordi was one of the so-called Black Aces, among eight American Hockey League Hamilton Bulldogs called up to the Canadiens this week. The group, now a gang of seven, is skating in Hamilton after their season’s end with head coach Sylvain Lefebvre and Bulldogs staff before reporting to Montreal on Sunday.
“(Lefebvre) just told us to look at (the call-up) as a good opportunity,” Tinordi said. “It’s special to be around Montreal during playoff time. Whether you’re playing or not, you’re excited to be there. But obviously you’re hoping to get a chance to play. So you work hard and wait to see what happens.”
Tinordi, the Canadiens’ first pick (22nd overall) in the 2010 entry draft, got dirt beneath his fingernails Wednesday in a Canadiens practice that was long on physicality.
There were several drills of one-on-one, two-on-two and at even strength that emphasized rugged contact along the boards in battles for the puck.
With veterans Andrei Markov and Francis Bouillon both given the day off, Tinordi spent a good portion of the practice paired with long-idle Tomas Kaberle, 35 times this season a healthy scratch who might yet see action depending on Therrien’s strategic rest plans for Markov and Bouillon.
It’s a physical edge that Therrien hopes, even needs from Tinordi, who was emailed travel details Wednesday night and was on an early morning flight from Toronto to Winnipeg less than 12 hours later.
Tinordi had a six-game audition with the Canadiens last month, earning an assist in his maiden NHL match in New Jersey. But his 14:48 on the ice that night tailed off to 11 minutes and change his next three games, then down to 7:35 and finally 6:47 before he was returned to the Bulldogs.
“When he started with us, he was doing good,” Therrien said of Tinordi’s first go-round. “The excitement of taking your first step in the NHL is always there.
“After that, he lost a little bit of his confidence. We want him to be more physical. That’s part of his game. He has to make sure that for a big kid like that, he has to be a presence. We told him that (upon Tinordi’s demotion to the Bulldogs) and he was more a presence on the ice in Hamilton to finish the year.
“We’re giving him an opportunity (Thursday),” Therrien added. “It’s up to him to take it. We believe in the young man. He skates well, he makes a good first pass and he could be a good presence.”
And then Therrien dangled a bit of a carrot about the possible length of this second audition.
“It all depends on his performance,” the coach said with a coy grin, asked whether Tinordi could see playoff action. “We wish. If we put him out there (Thursday), it’s because we hope he’s capable of being a presence out there. If he’s doing good, why not (compete in the playoffs)? It’s going to be a great opportunity for him.
“But there no pressure,” he stressed. “We hope he’s going to learn (Thursday). For these young kids, it’s always about learning.”
Therrien wouldn’t bite, even nibble, when asked whether Tinordi’s size and edge might fill a void since the season-ending knee injury suffered eight games ago by Alexei Emelin.
“I don’t think you could ask a 21-year-old kid to replace a guy who’s 26 (in fact, Emelin turns 27 on Thursday),” he said of the two defencemen.
“And Emelin’s not here. I’m not going to talk about him.”
This wasn’t Therrien disrespecting the heavy-hitting Russian; as he wouldn’t speak in the first days post-lockout of unsigned P.K. Subban, it’s the coach’s style to talk only of athletes who are on his active roster.
Tinordi is bound to get some duty on the penalty kill, something that’s a bit of a specialty. The Canadiens have a kill rate of less than 63 per cent in their last six games, the 1-5 stumble in that stretch troubling, to say the least, with the playoffs looming.
Special teams work and using his size will be key aspects to the youngster’s second audition, which begins against the do-or-die Winnipeg Jets in one of hockey’s rowdiest buildings.
And after the regular-season finale in Toronto on Saturday?
“Playoff hockey is something I’ve watched my whole life,” Tinordi said. “As a kid, you always dream of being a part of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Hopefully, it’s going to become a reality.”
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