When defenseman Matt Taormina was dealt to the Springfield Falcons in 2013, as part of a deal that brought forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Dalton Smith to the Crunch, Syracuse hockey fans didn’t quite realize how much they would miss the then 27-year-old’s presence on the backend. In the two seasons that followed, the lack of consistency on the Syracuse blue-line was one of the primary reasons the Crunch only had one playoff appearance, in which they were swept in three games by the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.
During the summer of 2015, Syracuse Crunch GM Julien Brisebois addressed the situation and again inked the veteran Taormina. In 61 games with the Crunch last season, Taormina did nothing but produce, tallying 13 goals and 28 assists. His efforts were rewarded with a three game stint in Tampa Bay, his third AHL All-Star appearance, and another two-way contract for the 2016-2017 campaign.
Through the first third of the current campaign, Taormina tops the North Division-leading Syracuse Crunch in scoring with 24 points, and is on pace to smash his numbers from last season (8g, 16a).
Primarily billed as an offensive-defenseman, Taormina is an elite puck-mover, a trait that has greatly contributed to the recent upswing of the Crunch powerplay. In fact, Syracuse has moved up to ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 16.% conversion rate. Out of those 20 conversions, Taormina has registered three of the markers. Currently, Taormina is averaging over a point-per-game and is the teams’ front-runner for another appearance in the All-Star Game.
While all of this offensive production is expected of the former Providence College standout, it’s his sudden emergence as a solid two-way defender that has really set him apart from the other Syracuse defenseman. With the Crunch’s other true two-way-defenseman Dylan Blujus sidelined with an upper-body injury, Taormina has taken on a much bigger workload. Head coach Benoit Groulx has shown confidence in his alternate captain, playing him in just about every important situation the Crunch has faced.
In addition, Taormina has had to take on a much bigger role than just “one of the alternate captains.” With Crunch captain Luke Witkowski spending the better part of the last month in Tampa and co-alternate captain Gabriel Dumont recovering from an injury suffered during the St. John’s trip in late November, the role of veteran leader has fallen solely on to the shoulders of this long-time Crunch veteran.
Let’s not forget, the last time the Syracuse Crunch made the playoffs and made it past the first round, Taormina was on the roster. The good news for Crunch fans is that he is showing no signs of slowing down, a sign that could potentially play a big role in the Crunch making a push to the post-season once again.