The two worst teams in the league, statistically, have some of the most recognizable names on their rosters. Zegras, Terry, Tkachuk, Giroux, Stutzle, Chabot. Yes, there might be slightly more household names on Ottawa’s squad than on Anaheim’s. Or maybe that’s just NHL media bias favoring exposure of the Sens team that was supposed to be in red-hot rebound mode this year. Anyway, if the name Brady Tkachuk catches your ear, it’s for good reason. Call him the Baby-Faced Assassin, because Tkachuk puts it to the other team night after night.
Tkachuk, to many West-Coast hockey fans, is not the Captain of the Ottawa Senators so much as a guy who has the good sense to put giant beers in his pockets while at a hockey game cheering on his brother. That would be Matthew Tkachuk, who was doing damage last spring in the playoffs with Calgary with Brady looking on and TV telling the story, illustrated with pictures of the aforementioned pants-with-beers. (Matthew is now with Florida, but you knew that.) But baby Brady is more than a beer-swilling fan. He’s the driving force on an Ottawa team that many think have promise in the mid-term, if not immediately (as would be evident from the team’s current record). Note that Tkachuk has played 21 games this year (all of them) and has 25 points to lead the Senators.
In SoCal, he played two games and did major damage in favor of his squad in each one. In fact, he didn’t take long to show his true self against Anaheim, and while it would seem hard to imagine he could keep up the pace that he displayed in every game all year, he certainly gave fans a sample of the various facets of his game. In fact, kind of a mega-sampler, with every element on view at one time or another. He did the same thing a couple of nights later in Los Angeles.
Early on versus the Ducks, he was jawing and pushing with defenseman Simon Benoit, a player not unfamiliar with the punching arts. A few minutes later, there Tkachuk was, scoring the first Ottawa goal. It didn’t happen so much in front of the net as with him almost in it, on the power play. The pass came from Drake Batherson to Tkachuk at the edge of the crease. The latter slammed the puck past Anthony Stolarz, who had no chance.
Tkachuk lives next to the goal line, just out of the crease. This happens not just on the power play, but at regular strength as well. He was there again in the second period. When that didn’t convert into a goal (and with Ottawa already up by a pair of despite the early shots advantage for the Ducks), he followed up with a rush chance, through center with Claude Giroux on his right side. Tkachuk waited to take his shot, getting to the low circle, and pasted it off the far pad for a rebound (of course, he would have taken a goal had Stolarz not been able to stretch for it). The rebound came back to him, and he shot again.
Ottawa scored another couple of goals before Tkachuk again got involved. This time it was on a power play, again on the edge of the crease. The puck came to him, the side of the net open. He just had to flick it to his forehand to bury it. The goalie got a skate out and it went off the outside of the post after sitting there teasing Tkachuk, who had come into the game with 22 points in 19 games. Ottawa scored on the PP.
Then as play carried on, again in the Ducks’ end, Ryan Strome hit Jake Sanderson with a nasty cross-check, exactly far enough off the end boards to do some real damage. Guess who was there right away to engage in a fight, in which he pasted Strome with at least two to the left side of the face before they pitched to the ice? Yeah, Tkachuk. He ended up being named the first star of the game, in the enemy’s rink.
Naturally, this meant that it was imperative that IH talk to him after the game, and in fact, I saw him in the hallway as I was heading to the media scrum. “Hey, come this way. We want to talk to you,” I said, not expecting an answer.
“I’ll come talk to you,” he replied. As he said it, I looked at him. He does indeed have a baby face. Perhaps it looks the smoother for the fact that he resembles his father, Keith, and that mug has gotten craggy over the years. But Brady’s baby face is overtop of a man’s body. Brady is at least a head taller than what you think he is, and his frame is strong, with big shoulders, no body fat, and lots of muscle. No wonder he can stand up for a teammate when he needs to. That, and the killer instinct that he’s genetically gifted with, it would seem.
I walked on to the presser. The coach was explaining the game. Tkachuk also spoke. He smiled as he talked, but it wasn’t the grin of the smart-ass that he sometimes comes off as on the ice.
He started out saying, “[W]inning is always fun. We had a really good effort today. Special teams came up big. PK was great tonight and power play showed up when we needed to. Overall it was a really fun experience tonight.”
When asked about his goal, the team’s first, he replied, “Great play by Drake [Batherson], and just tried to get a whack on it. From then on it just felt like we played a really solid game, really mature game, and just followed the game plan to a tee. We have to build off that. Like I said, winning is fun, we wanna keep feeling this way.” He also had positive comments on the return of Thomas Chabot.
He continued: “It’s nice to get that sense of being rewarded there, rewarded with two points, especially when ah, we kept working as hard as we could. So for a lot of those games in the past, we worked hard and came up short, so to get rewarded is definitely a good feeling.”
Then about the fight, he explained that he needed to come to the defense of his younger teammate. “I wanted to have his back there; he’s going to be a star in this league for a long time.”
Sure, following that there was a little bit of hockey-ism, the repetition of clichés, as when he got talking about how the team is bonded and cares about one another. But more important than that might be that whatever he says, he backs up with his play and other behavior (fighting).
Against the Kings, he reprised his Orange County performance, notching the team’s first goal and assisting on the second. The Kings were seeing just what Anaheim had out of this player. He ended the night with a chance to win it for his team, taking a puck off the back wall and spinning out to the net front. He had Jonathan Quick crouching in the net, the top and far side wide open. He shot it up over the near side.
No matter; the guy is leadership writ large, and it might not pay off this year, but should Ottawa manage to add a piece or two, particularly some lights-out goaltending, this guy will have 8,205,714 reasons to smile. You guessed it—that’s his yearly salary.