Deep into the Western Conference playoffs, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli appear to be joined at the hip on and off the ice. They skate on the same line together, their locker stalls are situated next to each other at home and on the road, and they spend time away from the rink with each other.
The natural chemistry they’ve developed first in Manchester and now while flanking Jeff Carter on “That 70’s Line” is a testament to the magic of team camaraderie several years after they were heated Ontario Hockey League rivals – Pearson with Barrie and Toffoli with Ottawa.
The two were involved in a scoring race in 2011-12, with Toffoli finishing with 100 points, ranking second in the league, and Pearson finishing with 91 points, ranking third.
“He was a pretty big player in the O, scoring 50 goals back-to-back. You obviously know of him,” Pearson said of Toffoli. “We didn’t really know each other personally. Probably my second year, it got a little heated, if you ask him. There’s a good story behind us. We became pretty good friends. It’s different playing with someone than playing against him.”
That “good” story? Pearson slashed Toffoli in the face when emotions boiled over in a game between the Colts and 67’s in the 2011-12 season. It was an incident that the two have clearly moved past, with Toffoli saying “It was a long time ago.”
“He’s my friend sometimes,” Toffoli said dryly.
“They had a good team. We had a good team, and we always had good games against each other. He was a top player on his team. I was a top player on my team, and we battled. That’s just what you do when you’re competitive and you want to win.”
Though the line was held without a point in Friday’s Game 6 loss, there were still a handful of quality opportunities generated. Pearson was on the ice for 19 shot attempts for and 10 shot attempts against, while Toffoli was on the ice for 19 and 11.
“I think it was a lot of the same,” Pearson said of the line’s ability to push the play at the attacking net. “I think we were trying to get pucks to the net and create chances, and there were at least two scrums…that everyone was whacking it. They didn’t really know where the puck was, but they were trying to find it somewhere, and wherever it was, we were trying to bear down, and it didn’t work out.”
Darryl Sutter didn’t say as much, but did note that “They played pretty well for us.”
With the junior hockey incident well in the past, the friendship they’ve generated has clearly evolved into a strong chemistry on the ice. Nurtured in the American Hockey League, it’s now being illustrated in the Western Conference Final – and that’s “fun,” if you ask either player.
“I think it’s fun,” Toffoli said. “We’re young. We’re in Game 7 of the conference finals. We need to win. We want to win, and we’ve got to play the best that we can to get past this game.”
Tanner Pearson, on skating with a player he has generated chemistry with:
To play with someone that you played with most of the season last year, and to play at this level together is pretty special, and we know we’re trying to make everything of it.
Pearson, on whether he’s having “fun”:
Yeah, it is fun, but at the same time, it’s a pretty important game, but at the same time it’s a pretty important game, so I think we’ve got to bear down and leave the fun behind for this one.
Pearson, on what has to be reinforced in a Game 7:
We’ve just got to keep things simple and do what we’ve been doing the past six games. We’ll just try to create offense and bear down on our chances.
Pearson, on the team not getting “rattled” by virtue of its Game 7 history:
There are a lot of guys who have played Game 7s here, so it should be a fun one, that’s for sure, and we know we’ve just got to come out prepared.