03/12/2008 12:02 AM
Jamie Tardif would like to join the distinguished list of Peterborough alumni who have graduated to the NHL.
Story and photos by Mark Newman
Jamie Tardif hopes he has history on his side.
A play-by-play account of his young career reveals a talented hockey player who has been on the cusp of greatness, but whose dreams of playing in the National Hockey League are still ahead.
Tardif played five seasons (2001-06) for the Peterborough Petes, a junior hockey team so legendary that on its web site the organization lists “tradition” as a hyperlink between “tickets” and “news.”
A check of the Peterborough annals finds that the team has paved the way for more than 150 NHL players, an impressive number that includes Steve Yzerman, Chris Pronger, Bob Gainey, Mike Ricci, Tie Domi and Mickey Redmond, plus such coaches as Scotty Bowman, Mike Keenan, Jacques Martin and Roger Nielson.
Of all the illustrious names who have spent time in the city on the Otonabee River in central-eastern Ontario, one has played more games (324) in a Petes uniform than any other – Jamie Tardif.
Tardif was there long enough to help usher in the careers of both Eric and Jordan Staal.
He played with Eric, the first-round pick (second overall) of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, during his first two seasons. He played his last two seasons there with Jordan, the first-round pick (second overall) of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Some say that I’m a stepping stone for those Staal brothers,” Tardif quipped after a recent Griffins practice.
All kidding aside, Tardif was no slouch himself. He was the No. 1 pick (ninth overall) of the Petes in the 2001 Ontario Hockey League draft, just behind such NHL players as Patrick O’Sullivan, Nathan Horton, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Corey Perry.
If the handwriting wasn’t on the wall for the turn his young career was about to take, there were pictures.
“In Peterborough, you looked around the rink and there were pictures of all these famous people now in the NHL or retired,” he said. “At my first training camp, guys like Yzerman and Domi came in, one year Pronger was around. It was pretty special.”
Tardif came to Peterborough from Welland, Ontario, the same southern Ontario town that produced ex-Griffins captain Matt Ellis. The son of Marc and Patti Tardif, he had all the grooming of most prized hockey players.
Although his father never got past a few pro tryouts, he had been a decent Junior B player. He coached young Jamie at the Pee Wee level, then served as a mentor as he played with older kids and worked his way through the Canadian hockey system.
“My dad’s always been there,” said Tardif, who played Junior B hockey in Welland. “He watches every game still to this day, either on the TV or the internet. He keeps really good tabs on me. I talk to him after every game.
“I value his opinion because he played the game. From what I hear from my grandparents and everybody else, he used to be a pretty good player, so I always listen and take his advice. He’s been around hockey ever since I was born.”
Tardif calls his dad “a pretty straight shooter,” so his critiques are honest, not sugar-coated. His career might have “Staal-ed” in Peterborough if not for his desire to make a name for himself.
Having played with older guys while growing up, Tardif was more prepared to play with talent on the level of the Staal brothers.
“All I tried to do was keep up with those guys,” he said. “They’re both unbelievable players. Eric was a kid who if he wanted to win a game, he could do it. Jordan was bigger and stronger. He could definitely dominate a game physically.”
Tardif was drafted in the fourth round (112th overall) by the Calgary Flames in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He scored 37 goals in his fourth season with the Petes, then tallied 40 more when he decided to return to Peterborough for a fifth year.
“My signing year was after the NHL lockout but I decided to return as an overage junior,” he said. “If I could go back and do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was an awesome experience.”
The Petes won the OHL championship during Tardif’s final season in Peterborough when he served as team captain.
“Having been through everything – losing in the first round, missing the playoffs – it was very special. I knew it was my last chance, so I tried to make the best of it.”
Last season he was invited to the training camps of the Detroit Red Wings and the Griffins before starting his pro career in the ECHL with the Toledo Storm.
He blossomed under the tutelage of Toledo coach Nick Vitucci, who gave him plenty of playing time in key situations, whether it was the power play or killing penalties. “Right away he gave me so much opportunity,” Tardif said.
Tardif got called up to the AHL by two other teams before coming to Grand Rapids. He appeared in one game for the Manitoba Moose and two for the Iowa Stars.
“The coach was throwing my name out there every time he talked to someone,” said Tardif, who played in the 2007 ECHL All-Star contest, a game in which the MVP was future Griffins goaltender Adam Berkhoel.
Making an impression at a higher level is difficult, at best, when your playing time is so limited. “If you combine those three games, I probably had 10 shifts,” Tardif said. “Playing that kind of role, especially at that time of year, is hard.”
Tardif finally signed a professional tryout contract with the Griffins on Jan. 26, 2007, then signed a standard player’s contract a week later.
“Things just fell into place,” he said. “Guys got hurt in Detroit, so they called up (Matt) Ellis, (Matt) Hussey and (Darryl) Bootland, plus (Josh) Langfeld was up the whole time I was here.
“I definitely enjoyed last year and I’m enjoying this year even more.”
Tardif had nine goals and six assists in 27 games with the Griffins during the 2006-07 season. Through 59 games this season, he had 13 goals and 10 assists.
He recently switched jersey numbers, taking #20 after giving his #25 to Darren McCarty when the Red Wings favorite joined the team for his comeback effort.
“I kind of knew it was coming, so when (Griffins equipment manager) Brad Thompson approached me, it was a no-brainer,” Tardif said. “I remember watching him while I was in Peterborough, seeing him fight, hit and score goals like he did in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“If I can play like that (someday), I’d be happy.”
Although he is not known as a fighter, Tardif has been relatively open about his willingness to drop the gloves. He told Grand Rapids Press writer Michael Zuidema that he didn’t mind mixing it up if it meant increasing his chances to get noticed.
“If you look at the Red Wings organization, they already have a ton of skill and a lot of guys who can put the puck in there, so they’re looking for something kind of different,” he said. “If I’m not scoring, I’ve got to stand out one way or another.”
In other words, he’s going to fight for his next contract.
“The next step is definitely to get that Detroit Red Wings contract,” said Tardif, who recently celebrated his 23rd birthday. “That’s the goal. I know it’s only going to come with a lot of hard work.”
The one aspect of his play that Tardif needs to work on the most is his skating. “It’s one of those things that could be holding me back from making that next step,” he admits.
Like Matt Ellis, Tardif lacks the natural speed that NHL teams crave. Ellis was so slow when he first came to Grand Rapids that he was jokingly called “Parking,” a reference to the city’s downtown lots.
Ellis worked summer after summer to improve his foot speed until he was fast enough that his skating couldn’t hold him back from the NHL. After playing 51 games with the Red Wings, Ellis was recently claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Kings.
“If I can follow in his footsteps and do what he’s done in this league and then get up to the NHL, I’d be happy. Once summer hits, I definitely have to improve on my skating and my speed.”
Not that he won’t have time to have fun, too. He bought a cottage in Wasaga Beach, Ontario late last summer, a week before the Red Wings opened their fall training camp.
“My girlfriend and I were looking around and something came up that was too good to pass up,” he said. “We’re a 20-second walk from the beach.”
Tardif enjoys being close to the water. “It’s strictly a summertime place,” he said. “The city dies down in the winter. I went there during the (recent) all-star break and it was pretty quiet.”
He can see himself eventually settling down at his summer retreat. After all, it’s a place where he used to watch jet ski and wakeboard competitions as a teenager.
“I would like to get a jet ski for myself,” he said. “Plus I love to fish, so I’d like to eventually get a nice fishing boat, too. I love being out on the water. There’s nothing better.”
Unless, of course, it is frozen and inside an NHL arena. With a little luck, Tardif hopes to find himself there someday.