By Mike Mastovich
If you watched closely as Joe Tallari developed during the 66 games he spent with the Johnstown Chiefs last season, then most likely you’re hoping to see more of the crafty playmaker.
But Tallari might not be back soon.
A 32-goal scorer during his rookie year with the Chiefs, Tallari is attending the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ American Hockey League preseason camp. He began the fall training with the NHL’s New York Islanders.
Tallari, 24, isn’t simply content to occupy a training camp spot.
“I went to the Hartford Wolf Pack camp in the AHL last year,” Tallari said during a Thursday telephone interview. “What’s different with this one is I had gone to the Islanders NHL camp a week before I came here. I came to this one pretty much prepared. I’m a lot more prepared than I was last year.”
Last season, Tallari was the most-improved Chiefs impact player from the time he arrived as a late-preseason camp signee until his call up to Bridgeport on March 29.
Tallari netted 14 goals and 27 points through his first 37 games with the Chiefs from October through January.
As the Chiefs’ roller coaster season wound down, he was simply outstanding while tallying 18 goals and 24 points during 29 games in February and March.
Tallari saved the most impressive scoring frenzy for his final seven games with the Chiefs. He had at least a point in each contest and netted nine goals and 10 points during that seven-game span.
In 11 late-season AHL contests with Bridgeport, Tallari had a respectable four goals and seven points.
Five months later, he’s poised to contend for a roster spot with coach David Baseggio’s Sound Tigers. Bridgeport assistant coach Pat Bingham was the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers head coach for the past two seasons.
“If I do get sent down, I will be coming back to Johnstown,” Tallari said. “I’m looking at this as a day-to-day thing. I’ve had a couple games’ experience in the American Hockey League. I want to be here a whole year. I want to take this next step in my career.”
Tallari had a first-hand look at hockey’s top level during his brief stay in the Islanders’ camp. Players he’s accustomed to watching on television or reading about suddenly skated on the same ice as Tallari.
“It was an experience I was glad to be a part of,” he said. “Realistically, I wasn’t looking to make the team. I wanted to show myself and prepare for Bridgeport.
“It’s business as usual when you get to the rink. But when I was away from the rink, I’d think about it. I’d think about the guys I watch on TV. You realize they’re no different than you are. They come to the ice and work hard. They practice hard. After practice they go to the gym and work out. It’s no easier for them than it is for us.”
A solid student during his four years at Niagara University, Tallari knew enough to observe some of the top players at his position when the opportunity arose.
“I’d hang around and watch Alexei Yashin skate,” Tallari said of the Islanders forward. “Miroslav Satan, Jason Blake, Mike York. … It was a great experience to watch those guys.
“I definitely learned it takes a huge commitment and a desire to want to be at that level. If you don’t have the desire, you can’t make the commitment.”