When Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo came to Ottawa as part of the Erik Karlsson trade, it brought two Ontario boys back home.
Tierney was born in Keswick and played his junior hockey with the OHL London Knights. DeMelo grew up in London but played his junior hockey with the OHL Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors.
So it is that DeMelo has now played for two teams owned by Eugene Melnyk — the Majors and the Senators.
Though Melnyk hasn’t been around much since the 25-year-old defenceman came to Ottawa from the San Jose Sharks, DeMelo did meet Melnyk a few times in Mississauga, when Melnyk owned the junior team (he sold it in 2012).
“He came in and treated us to a couple of nice steak dinners at Ruth’s Chris (Steak House) at Christmas time,” DeMelo says.
“He was very generous and the facility at the Hershey Centre was top flight for the OHL,” says DeMelo, who played in Mississauga from 2009-13 and was coached by former Senators bench boss Dave Cameron for most of that time.
“It mimicked a bit what is here, the video room in Mississauga had theatre seats, just like here. The weight room was advanced at the time.
“He (Melnyk) cared about us, when he did come in he made a great impression and treated us very well.”
DeMelo hasn’t had a chance to see Melnyk in Ottawa to exchange St. Mike’s stories, but he and Tierney have been welcomed by the Senators in a big way since that Sept. 13 trade of Karlsson to San Jose. (Forward prospect Rudolfs Balcers has settled in nicely in Belleville with four goals and three assists in six games.)
At the time, there was a lot of “Chris who? And Dylan who?”
While it’s only been a month or so, the Senators organization has to be thrilled with the early returns for a franchise player.
Today, Senators fans know Tierney as that centre who is tied for the team lead in points with nine (two goals, seven assists) while playing close to 18 minutes per game as a first- or second- line centre.
Considering DeMelo is the defensive conscience of the pairing with Thomas Chabot, DeMelo has masqueraded as a wheel-man with five points in seven games and a plus-8 rating to lead all Ottawa players.
Traded to Ottawa just after the off-season from hell in Sensland, the ex-Sharks had to be wondering what they were getting into, especially with all the talk of a poisoned room given the dynamic between Karlsson and Mike Hoffman and their partners, involved in legal proceedings related to alleged online harassment. (Hoffman was earlier dealt to San Jose, then flipped to Florida.)
DeMelo says he came to Ottawa with an open mind.
“Being a new guy, initially I stepped back and watched, and saw how the culture was – saw how guys like Boro (Mark Borowiecki), Stoney (Mark Stone), Duchy (Matt Duchene), were, and I kind of followed their lead.
“Regardless of the situation, I thought I was going to come in here, try to do what I did in San Jose, and bring some of that culture here, but I got here and found there wasn’t much that needed to be changed. The culture was already good, and I’m trying to be a piece of it.”
Tierney, 24, says he knew better than to believe everything he’d heard about the Senators, including their room.
“You can’t base things just on what’s in the media,” Tierney says. “I heard there was stuff going on, but heard a lot of good things about the guys in the dressing room, too.
“A couple of guys (on the team) reached out to me right away, and let me know how the culture actually is here, and that there’s a lot of good people and that it was going to be good here this year.
“I came in, and saw a really decent room. Guys get along well here.”
They get along that much better with a 4-2-1 record heading into Tuesday’s home game against the Boston Bruins.
The ex-Sharks have been a big part of the good start, taking on added responsibilities they hoped they would get on a young, rebuilding team. Tierney and DeMelo had that discussion before coming here.
“A hundred per cent, we did. It wasn’t something where Guy (Boucher, the head coach) came in here and said, ‘This is what you’re going to get.’ If you don’t play good, you’re not going to be given the opportunity. But initially, we’ve been given more opportunity and I think have done a good job with it.”
Given San Jose’s depth on defence, DeMelo didn’t do a lot of penalty killing there but has been a key defender on Ottawa’s PK.
With Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, Tierney wasn’t going to get a sniff on the power play with the Sharks, but has been the centre of an effective second power-play unit with the Senators. He’s also doing PK, which is missing its best killer in Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Achilles injury).
Importantly, Tierney has found chemistry with Ottawa’s top winger, Stone, (and Brady Tkachuk before Tkachuk’s leg injury last week). It’s never a bad thing to have Stone wanting you as his centre.
“I was behind some pretty big names out in San Jose,” Tierney says. “Guys who can log a lot of minutes and have been in the league a long time. Future Hall of Famers, all-stars in the league. It was definitely hard to get a lot of opportunities. But I’ve had a good opportunity here, a chance to play in all situations.”
Both of these ex-Sharks are settling in, on the roster and in the city.
“I feel like every game I’ve been improving,” DeMelo says. “I’ve been lucky enough to play with Chabby who’s an extraordinary player, we’ve had some great chemistry.”
“You can still win when you’re going through a rebuild,” Tierney adds. “We’ve got a lot of young players here that have shown they can play at this level, without a lot of NHL games under their belt.
“It’s an exciting time to be in Ottawa right now and guys are having fun coming to the rink every day.”
DADS BUTT HEADS
Sporting families are forever crossing paths in Canada, despite its vast geography. Tierney, who recently moved to Ottawa via trade, has tons of family in the area (Deep River and Arnprior), and his father, Jim, was quarterback of the Mount Allison Mounties. It so happens that in the 1984 Vanier Cup (then called the College Bowl), Jim Tierney went up against the triumphant Guelph Gryphons and Parri Ceci, the father of Senators defenceman Cody Ceci. Ceci had an 89-yard touchdown reception that day and was named the game’s MVP.
“And to think we’re both not even involved in football,” said Codi of his new teammate, Chris.
Smart parents. The hockey route seemed to work out OK.