Taormina aims for perfection in Lowell

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

At a recent Lowell booster club team banquet, members wanted to show their appreciation by raffling off a prize for the players. The perk up for grabs was a Devils sweatshirt.

The winner’s name was called out as "Matt." Since there are four players on the team with that first name, a moment of confusion ensued. It turns out the winner was rookie defenseman Matt Taormina, which wouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who knows his history.

Taormina is tough to beat in those situations. When he played collegiately at Providence, he won a raffle for a $50 Apple gift certificate and another that brought him a $250 shopping spree at Macy’s.

"Sometimes I’m lucky for stuff like that. I have a history of good things," he said. "Hopefully, it doesn’t end right now."

That doesn’t seem likely. With Taormina helping run the show in Lowell, the Devils should keep hitting all the right numbers.

The smooth conductor is seventh among AHL blueliners with 44 points (10 goals, 34 assists). More importantly, he’s second in the league in power-play points (29) and assists (21) for a Lowell squad that’s fourth with the man advantage, with a success rate of 20.9 percent.

With the surprising Devils hanging around a postseason spot in the Atlantic Division, those are the types of tickets that get cashed in as winners in the playoffs.

"Luck is getting the puck to the net and hoping something happens," said Taormina, 23. "I think every time we go out and have a chance on the power play, we have to buckle down and take advantage of that. We have to put some offense on the board. I put a little pressure on myself. I have to be perfect every time."

That impossible task for the world’s greatest players is an even more improbable one for someone with Taormina’s low-key background.

As a teenager, Taormina fell a half-lap behind the rest of the hockey field when the best players around him started growing and he stayed rooted much lower to the ground. Even now, the redhead is a run-of-the-mill 5-foot-11, 185 pounds.

"I was a late bloomer. Guys started to get bigger. I wasn’t really changing," Taormina said. "When guys started sprouting at 14, 15, I stayed little. The game got harder for me. I knew I couldn’t be as physical as I wanted to be. I knew I was going to have to use my skating. I worked a lot on getting faster. Maybe that’s when I started to develop into more of an offensive player."

Taormina also rounded into a smarter one. He understood that if he took the approach of outworking everyone else, that would be an attribute coaches would admire and value. He showed his pluck in college at Providence by playing in every game but one in his four-year career there.

The undrafted Taormina joined Binghamton at the end of last season and then inked an AHL/ECHL deal with the Devils in the offseason.

"It’s being able to do the right things. It’s treating your body right," Taormina said of his endurance. "I understand the game a little more (now). Coming from college to here, it’s not really a big step. It’s a different step. It’s going from chaos on the ice to a more controlled environment on the ice now. I think I’m less tired now than I was (in college). I’m doing something right, I guess."

That applies from start to finish in Lowell. Taormina introduced himself to the Devils with four goals and seven assists in October and stretched that consistency into an eight-point (1-7) January and a nine-point (1-8) February.

"He understands the game well. He’s responded in every situation," said Lowell coach John MacLean.

"I didn’t expect to have this year. At first maybe I didn’t think I was ready," Taormina said. "Then I understood the game more, learned a few little tricks. It got a little easier on myself. It’s just not to do too much with the puck. I’m not afraid to take chances, which could be my downfall, too."

Any risks assumed usually are calculated ones. Taormina has worn grooves into the Lowell ice with his post-practice routine of firing puck after puck on net with Devils forward Nathan Perkovich dancing around in front of the goal working on deflections.

Of course, putting the puck on net when no one is in the way is just a drill. Weaving a flip here and there through traffic is an art.

"I think you rarely see him get shots blocked. It’s just seeing holes, putting them through. He’s been like that since Game 1," said Lowell forward Tim Sestito.

"All the coaches tell us, if you can get the puck to the net, get the puck to the net," Taormina said. "I look to the net a lot, look where guys are. I just look for places to be open."

Taormina’s timely runs of luck and skill suggests that when the moment grows biggest, he and the Devils could find exactly what they need to cause playoff problems.

"It’s getting down to the part of the season where everything is getting interesting," he said. "I think we’re a good enough team that we can battle through a lot. I know I’m not going to be perfect, but if I try to be every time, hopefully good things will happen."

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.