By Mark Monroe
The Toledo Blade
TOLEDO, Ohio – A pair of gifted rookies have been the surprise of the Storm’s young season. Right winger Jamie Tardif and center Andrew R. Martin lead Toledo with three goals and three assists each. The rookies start on the same line and have accounted for 12 of the Storm’s 40 player points. The first-year forwards have helped Toledo jump out to a 5-2-0 record and a share of the lead in the ECHL North Division.
Martin is currently riding a five-game point streak and is plus-5. The 23-year-old from Brampton, Ontario, is averaging more than a point per game in five games. He missed the first two games with a groin injury.
“Getting off to a quick start has really helped my confidence,” Martin said. “You’re a little tentative as a rookie at first. But it helps when the offense gets going and the pucks are going your way.”
Tardif, 21, is third among all ECHL players in shots with 37. Tardif scored his third goal of the season on a penalty shot Saturday.
“You couldn’t ask for a better start,” Tardif said. “We worked hard in training camp and we have a great crop of rookies along with some great veterans.”
Martin and Tardif both have scored game-winning goals.
“They’ve both instilled so much confidence in me, I’ll put them in any situation,” coach Nick Vitucci said. “I’m not surprised. I knew they were highly-skilled players. They’re both great utility guys.”
Vitucci said the line of Martin, Tardif and veteran Matt Zultek is similar to last year’s explosive “Kid Line.” That trio consisted of rookies Bracken Kearns and Chris Blight along with veteran Mike James. Kearns, who is now playing for Milwaukee in the AHL, ended up leading the team in scoring.
“They get better every game as they get to know each other,” Vitucci said.
Zultek, who was a key addition late last season, is second on the team in points. The left winger (6-4, 210) has scored two goals and dished out two assists.
“The line just kind of fell into place and it’s worked out very well,” Tardif said. “Andrew and I have speed and hands and Matt has such a big body. We have it all: speed, size and grit.”
“We all have a similar mind-set,” Martin agreed. “We all want to be offensive guys that also take care of the defensive end. They’re easy to play with.”
Vitucci said Tardif already is an all-around player.
“He has soft hands,” Vitucci said. “But he’ll get his nose dirty. He’s also very good defensively.”
Tardif is from the same town as Vitucci – Welland, Ontario.
“I knew his father,” Vitucci said. “He was involved in junior hockey. So I knew of Jamie and the career he was having in the OHL in Peterborough.”
Tardif played for the Peterborough Petes, a storied franchise that has developed many NHL players, including Steve Yzerman.