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Feisty LW Tangradi aims high with Pens

Penguins/NHL Videos

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It was a move right out of the classic film "Slap Shot."

Flash back to New Year's Eve, at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, where 20,223 fans were watching Canada play the United States in the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Canada's star player, John Tavares, had just scored his second goal in less than a minute to cut the U.S.'s lead to 3-2, late in the first period. As the Canadian players skated by the American bench, Canadian winger Chris DiDomenico apparently said something that didn't sit well with U.S. left winger Eric Tangradi.

Cameras caught Tangradi, from the bench, thrust his stick blade into DiDomenico's chin, knocking him to the ice. A mini melee ensued.

Cheap shot• Sure. As Tangradi says, "It wasn't my proudest hockey moment."

But one also gets the feeling that the 6-foot-4, 220-pound left winger, a prized Penguins prospect, isn't overwrought with regret.

"I made a decision based on pride of the sweater," Tangradi said this past week, as Penguins prospects camp got into full swing at Southpointe. "There was a comment made right by our bench. I didn't really like it. It offended what I stood for and the pride of my country, and, you know, I stuck out my stick. I'd kind of expect someone else to do the same thing."

What was the offensive comment?

"Words I probably shouldn't say in an interview or in front of a camera," Tangradi said.

That wasn't Tangradi's only bench outburst last season. He also served a four-game suspension in the Ontario Hockey League for throwing water bottles on the ice after he thought he'd drawn a penalty.

Tangradi's coach and general manager with the Belleville Bulls, George Burnett, believes the incident was overblown.

"I won't try to deny a couple of water bottles ended up on the ice," Burnett said, "but I don't think it was anything directed at the officials. And that's a small blip on the screen as far as I'm concerned. Eric is a very proud young man, one of the elite offensive players in our league last year.

"Simply put, he wants to be in there when the game's on the line."

Penguins general manager Ray Shero was interested in Tangradi long before insisting he be part of a Feb. 26 trade with Anaheim, one that sent defenseman Ryan Whitney to the Ducks for winger Chris Kunitz.

"Ray and (former Penguins assistant GM) Chuck Fletcher knew Eric from his draft year," said Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' head of amateur scouting. "We had him as a potential first-round pick. I saw him play after his draft year and said, 'Oh, geez, I wish we would have gotten that player.'

"He has some things to work on, but there's a pretty good skill set there."

That was obvious last season. Tangradi, Belleville's captain, was right behind Tavares — the eventual No. 1 selection in this year's NHL draft — in the OHL scoring race before the water-bottle suspension. Tangradi finished with 88 points (38 goals, 50 assists) in 55 games, eighth in the league in scoring.

Burnett said a groin injury hampered Tangradi in the latter part of the season and at a disappointing World Junior tournament. As that injury healed, Tangradi was putting together a terrific playoff with 21 points in 16 games.

But that is when a much worse injury befell him.

Playing against Brampton, Tangradi was pulled down on a 2-on-1. His left hand smashed into the goaltender's skate blade, opening a wicked gash. It was later learned he'd severed a tendon in his wrist.

In the moment, Tangradi worried for his life.

"I looked down, and there was blood everywhere," he said. "I didn't know if it had hit a vein in the wrist or something. I was light-headed, and I sprinted off the ice and into the room. I don't remember too much other than that, because I passed out because of all the blood I lost."

Six days later, Tangradi found out he'd severed a tendon and that it had "slung back all the way into the elbow." He called the ensuing surgical procedure "scary" but successful. He was on the ice, taking part in drills at the opening of Penguins prospects camp.

Next week, Tangradi will have a minor follow-up procedure to loosen scar tissue in his thumb. He likely is ticketed for the Penguins' farm club in Wilkes-Barre to start the season.

His long-range goal is to play on one of the Penguins' top two lines.

Burnett says the well-spoken, affable Tangradi scored most of his goals on quick wrist shots and was always willing to sacrifice his body in front of the net.

One problem Tangradi will face when he's ready to join the Penguins: He'll have to change numbers. He grew up a Flyers fan in Philadelphia and has always worn No. 25 in honor of ex-Flyers center Keith Primeau.

In Pittsburgh, that number happens to be worn by a certain Stanley Cup hero named Max Talbot.

"They can put any number on the back of my jersey and I'll be smiling," Tangradi said.

Asked to describe his playing style, Tangradi said, "I'm a gritty, tough left winger. I mean, I'm not going to score those highlight-reel goals. I think (the Penguins) pay a lot of guys to score the really nice ones. I'm going to score a lot in the blue paint.

"I work hard, try to have a lot of hits and try to be someone guys don't like to play against."

Even when he's on the bench.


A look at Penguins prospect Eric Tangradi:

Hometown: Philadelphia

Age: 20

Height: 6-4

Weight: 220

Position: LW

Stats: 38 goals, 88 points in 55 games with Belleville of OHL

Drafted: 2nd round (42nd overall) in 2007 by Anaheim

Notable: Grew up a Flyers fan and wears No. 25 in honor of Keith Primeau




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