Wolf Pack’s Tarnasky Looks to Show the Right Way

Here is a feature I wrote for the Wolf Pack’s official website on veteran Wolf Pack forward Nick Tarnasky:

Wolf Pack forward Nick Tarnasky has certainly faced his share of challenges during his time with the Pack.

The 30-year-old 12th-year pro has been caught in a numbers game at forward practically since the first day he pulled on a Wolf Pack jersey.  An overabundance of veterans on the Wolf Pack roster limited Tarnasky to 26 games last season, and the Pack’s depth at forward kept him out of the lineup for the first five games of this year.

Once Tarnasky finally got into the 2015-16 lineup, though, he surely made the most of it.  The Rocky Mountain House, Alberta native had an assist in his season debut Saturday night in Hershey, setting up a key third-period goal by linemate Shawn O’Donnell, and then Tarnasky scored both Wolf Pack goals in a 3-2 shootout win over the Bears on Sunday, his first multiple-point performance in a Wolf Pack uniform.

Nick Tarnasky

Nick Tarnasky

In Tarnasky’s view, his offensive success was the result of the Wolf Pack’s team approach.

“It’s a tribute to the team concept of working hard and playing the right way,” he said.  “Good heads-up play by the defense we were out there with at the time, and we were able to bang a couple home.”

The reason why Tarnasky was able to benefit on his goals from good work by Pack rookie defensemen Brady Skjei and Ryan Graves was that Tarnasky had gotten himself right to the front of the Hershey net.  Once there, he was able to bury a cross-slot pass from Skjei on the first goal and backhand in a Graves rebound on the second.

“As far as I know, you score goals from being in front of the net,” Tarnasky said.  “That’s a thing I’ve always prided myself on.  It’s a little thing, but you work on it day in and day out, and you get an opportunity like that that comes, and more often than not you’re going to get one home, from six inches away from the crease.”

Tarnasky and O’Donnell played the two games in Hershey with Chad Nehring as their centerman, and that line generated nearly all the Wolf Pack’s offense in the back-to-back road tilts.  On the depth chart, that threesome is the Wolf Pack’s fourth line, but according to Tarnasky, that is not how they think of themselves.

“Our team concept is four lines, and I don’t think anybody in the room is really concerned about one, two, three or four,” he said.  “If we go out there as a group and we bring whatever element we bring each shift, if it’s going to be chipping in one night with goals or hits or momentum swings, that’s kind of what each line’s here to do, and I think we’re all buying into it here as we go.”

That said, Tarnasky, Nehring and O’Donnell share a special brand of lunch bucket-type chemistry when they are on the ice together, or hanging out in the locker room.

“We’re all really good friends and close off the ice as well, so that helps,” Tarnasky said of him and his linemates.  We talk about things, we sort things out, and the main thing is we stick together.  Nobody points fingers, we talk about our problems and sort them out, and when we get into the game then we’re all on the same page and we’re all ready to go.”

Nehring has been a revelation for the Wolf Pack since being summoned from the Pack’s ECHL affiliate, the Greenville Road Warriors, on Thanksgiving weekend of last season.  Unlike Tarnasky, who brought nearly 250 games of NHL experience, and close to 400 AHL games, to the organization when he signed in July of 2014, Nehring had never played above the ECHL level in his three years of pro before last year.  He immediately grabbed hold of the fourth-line center role, though, and never let go, and after assisting on both of Tarnasky’s goals in Hershey, came out of that weekend tied for the Wolf Pack team points lead with seven.

“He plays the right way, he’s reliable and he’s accountable,” Tarnasky said of his pivot man.  “So to play with him is great.  We talk it out, we work on things together, and that’s a good person to play with, for me especially.  He’s a smart player, and we keep things simple and when there’s an opportunity, we take advantage of it.”

Tarnasky has certainly seized on his latest Wolf Pack opportunity, but even when he was one of the odd-men-out in the Pack’s playing roster, he still saw that situation as a chance to model a good sense of work ethic and determination for the club’s younger players.

“I’ve always prided myself on never giving up and coming to the rink every day with my hard hat on,” Tarnasky said.  “As far as looking up and down our lineup, I think that’s a pretty good pattern.  I think us older guys have tried to provide the best example for the young kids, Tambo (Adam Tambellini) and Gravesie (Graves) and the young kids coming up, that need to have some shoulders to lean on and learn a little bit from.  I think we have a great mix, good young kids, good older guys, good middle-age kids on our team, and we’re coming along really good so far.”

The veterans’ leadership job has been made easier, too, by the fact that the Wolf Pack’s youngsters, like Tambellini, Graves, et. al., have come to the pros with a good foundation for approaching things the right way.

“We got Brady Skjei as well,” Tarnasky said, “another guy that was helping out the other guys, as far as being a first-year guy together, because he was with us through our (playoff) run last year.  All the young kids are buying in and they’re learning and they’re trying hard every day.  We don’t have any attitude problems, we don’t have anything like that floating around the room.  I’m pretty happy with the way we started, and I love the group of guys I look around and see every day, so it’s perfect.

“We have a lot of guys coming in and learning, and everybody’s got an open mind.  So as far as getting together and jelling, I think it’s been great so far.  We have good leadership, we have a really good core group of guys, and I think everybody’s buying in and we’re making strides here in this first month-and-a-half, getting some good points on the board and setting ourselves up for the stretch.”

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