by Jason Karnosky
For the first half of the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign, Milwaukee captain Jarred Tinordi led the Admirals to the best record in the AHL. That strong play earned the 6-foot-6-inch blue liner an extended call up to Nashville, where Tinordi was playing the best hockey of his career prior to suspension of professional hockey due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
After a 144-day layoff between games that matter, on Sunday the veteran blue liner will be one of nine players who dressed for the Admirals this season that will return to play with Nashville as the Predators face the Arizona Coyotes in the qualification round of the 2020 National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs.
“What I’ve learned is that you’ve got to take advantage of opportunities when they present itself, and (this summer’s playoffs) are one of those opportunities,” said Tinordi, who played over 16 minutes in Nashville’s March 10, 2020, 4-2 win over Montreal—the Predators last game prior to the suspension of play. “A lot of guys that are in the AHL are starting out like I was—as high draft picks who think they are going to get lots of opportunities and lots of chances. However, things change for you pretty quickly as a professional and careers are usually not that long.”
There are 22 Milwaukee alumni who made the Predators 30-man, return to play roster this July. The other players on the Admirals’ NHL affiliate for the qualification round that dressed for games in Milwaukee this season are Colin Blackwell, Daniel Carr, Michael McCarron, Eeli Tolvanen, Yakov Trenin, Alexandre Carrier, Troy Grosenick and Connor Ingram.
Tinordi has experienced much in his professional career, though little compares to the chaotic nature of the 2019-20 campaign.
“We are definitely getting ready to go for the playoffs, (but) the past few months have been crazy times,” Tinordi said. “There were times we thought the season would be canceled for sure, and then the next day we would hear that we were going to play. As players we thought (the return to play) might be earlier, but there was just so much involved in getting the season back going again, while also keeping the players safe.”
Prior to the pandemic, Tinordi might have thought he had seen it all in his professional career. The 2010 Montreal Canadians first-round draft pick, and son of 12-year NHL veteran Mark Tinordi, now has nearly a year’s worth of NHL experience in parts of five seasons (81 total games). He’s lived in five different AHL cities (Hamilton, St. John’s, Tucson, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Milwaukee), and enjoyed plenty of personal success and failure in his career.
Admirals coach Karl Taylor credits Tinordi, and his team’s leadership group, in playing a large part in his team’s incredible success prior to the AHL’s hiatus on March 12. Milwaukee finished the shortened 2019-20 season with 90 points and the league’s best record of 41-14-5-3.
“Jarred was a big part of what we did here in Milwaukee in 2019-20,” said Taylor, who coached Tinordi for 32 games this season with the Admirals. “We respect him, and he was our captain for a reason as he’s a big man with a big presence. We trusted his leadership, along with our other veterans. He played well for us through training camp and pushed for a spot in Nashville.”
Tinordi took full advantage of his latest NHL opportunity, which was four years in the making. Though the virus outbreak halted his Nashville game count at 28 contests, the bruising blue liner enjoyed a breakthrough moment by scoring the first NHL goal of his career about a month prior to the pause. The memorable occasion occurred on January 29, as Tinordi blasted home the Predators’ first tally in a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the host Washington Capitals.
“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Tinordi told reporters after the game. “I didn’t quite see it go in, but it was a good pass by (Filip Forsberg) as he kind of left it on a platter for me and I shot it. I just saw him coming in for the big hug, so that was nice.”
The goal was truly special for Tinordi, who grew up in the D.C. area where his father played the last five years of his 663-game NHL career.
“I had a lot of friends in town and my parents,” Tinordi said. “(With my dad playing in Washington), I grew up here until I was about 15 or 16. But even when he was done playing we’d go to Caps games all the time.”
You can forgive Tinordi for wondering if a moment like the one he had in Washington was ever going to come again, especially back in the summer of 2018. The towering defenseman came to Milwaukee at the crossroads of his career. Tinordi had just completed a full season in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, after up-and-down stints in the Montreal and Arizona organizations.
When Tinordi signed a contract with the Predators, he was two full seasons removed from his last NHL game. The veteran blue liner was looking for an organization where he could be both a leader and have a real shot of returning to hockey’s highest level.
“Nashville’s track record with developing defensemen was definitely one of the selling points as to why I chose to come here,” Tinordi said. “I could have picked a team that had more openings, but I wanted to be a part of this organization as they have that pedigree. I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to learn from the best and to practice with those guys, so I could hopefully become a full-time NHL player myself.”
When Tinordi signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Predators on July 1, 2018, Admirals General Manager Scott Nichol thought the organization found a diamond in rough.
“I knew Jarred from watching him play, but he was a guy that had played a lot in the minors and just needed an opportunity,” Nichol said. “Before he came to our organization he hadn’t played in the NHL in a while, but now he got into NHL games this year. He’s been rewarded for doing the right things, and putting in the work in every single day and for every single game. He has a great attitude.”
The Burnsville, Minnesota native ran with every opportunity Milwaukee and Nashville presented him during his tenure in the Predators organization. Never a big scoring threat in his early years, the Admirals defenseman turned in his best offensive season of his career by finishing with eight goals and 22 points in 2018-19. The season even featured a three-game goal streak for Tinordi in early March of 2019.
That career year, Tinordi’s first as a professional captain, earned him a second contract—this time a two-year pact with the Predators that will keep him around until the end of the 2020-21 season.
“Everyone develops at a different time in their careers, and it doesn’t matter if you are 28 years old like (Jarred) is,” Nichol said. “He improved so much with his skating, puck decisions, and now he’s in the NHL. He’s a huge part of our organization.”
Tinordi learned many of his leadership traits from his dad. Ever since he first joined the Admirals, he passed those tips on to his younger teammates.
“Aside from hockey, one of the big things I learned from my dad was how to be a professional off the ice,” Tinordi said. “The things you could be doing in the summer time and the things you could be doing at home, but also how to carry yourself. I feel like I’ve picked up a lot of things from him.”
Tinordi was a key part of the leadership group that helped turn around the Milwaukee ship late in the 2018-19 campaign. The Tinordi-led Admirals beat Rockford in three straight games in late March (Tinordi had two assists in the first contest)—a key sweep that galvanized the squad for the stretch run.
“Jarred did things the right way, and he held people accountable with how he performed both in practice and in games,” Taylor said. “That allowed us to create the environment we wanted to in Milwaukee, which was a winning, dedicated and detailed environment.”
The Admirals went on to finish with points in 14 straight games to finish the 2018-19 season as the Central Division’s second seed with a home ice advantage in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything like that before, and to have that run at the end of the year was pretty special,” Tinordi said “No matter what was happening on the ice, whether we were down one goal, or down two, we knew we were just going to find a way to win. It was kind of a little bit of a swagger that the team had. We weren’t going to get phased by anything.”
Tinordi’s leadership was critical all year long as Milwaukee endured a 2018-19 lineup constantly in flux. His presence and guidance paid dividends on younger teammates like Yakov Trenin, who exceled in the NHL prior to the mid-March suspension of play.
“Jarred meant a lot to everyone in Milwaukee, as he was a very good leader on the ice and the same good guy off the ice,” Trenin said. “He did things like block shots, pumped everyone up on the bench, and provided some good speeches between periods. I’m just very happy to have had him as a teammate in Milwaukee and now in Nashville.”
Tinordi got off to a slow start offensively in 2019-20, but it was clear that his game had reached another level. During Predators training camp, the veteran defenseman was one of the team’s last cuts, which made Tinordi realize that another NHL shot was truly within reach.
“I had a really good (offseason) training camp this year, and was definitely a lot more comfortable,” Tinordi said. “I just wanted to play my game because Nashville liked my size, my skating and my physicality.”
Tinordi had six assists in his first 32 games in Milwaukee as the Admirals stormed to the front of the AHL.
Following an injury to Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis in the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, Tinordi got his latest NHL shot and made the most of it. Tinordi had five points in 28 games with Nashville, and his average ice time per game climbed to over 16-and-a-half minutes.
When 2019-20 season finally resumes this weekend, Tinordi is likely to continue to make a big impact for the Predators, just this time from the hub city of Edmonton in front of a limited number of people in the seats.
“Last year I struggled a little bit early on, but then I kind of found my stride and things kind of came together a little bit for me with Milwaukee,” Tinordi said. “This year it was my goal to be more consistent throughout the entire year. I think I’ve done that and that’s why I got the chance to play in Nashville.”
Tinordi and the Predators next chance to play will be an exhibition contest against Dallas. The start of the best-of-five qualification round series against Arizona will come on Sunday, August 2.
“I think what the NHL did with the format, with a qualification round and round robin tournament is the fairest way it could be done,” Tinordi said. “With all of the rest, all of the remaining teams are going to be prepared, but it’s also going to be crazy. Our first series against Arizona is only five games, so our team has be close and we will need to hit the ground running. Hopefully we can then carry that momentum throughout the rest of the playoffs.”
Faceoff for Game 1 for the qualification round matchup between the Predators and Coyotes is set for 1:00 p.m. Central Time at Rogers Place.