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Bruins beat Toronto again, this time with underdog Jamie Tardif

Even a narrow 1-0 defeat to the Boston Bruins does not sit well with the faithful of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

How could it? A Bruins visit to the Air Canada Centre always represents a reminder of what could have been for Maple Leaf fans, and usually a loss to commiserate over. Boston, after all, has gone a dominant 13-2-3 in their last 18 trips to Toronto.

It's always: what if the Maple Leafs didn't give up those two first-round picks for Phil Kessel? How good would a pair of building blocks like Tyler Seguin and defenceman Dougie Hamilton, who played his first game against Toronto on Saturday, look in blue and white?

Hamilton and Seguin were the draft picks the Bruins used from the Kessel trade. Another one that got away to the division rivals was goalie Tuukka Rask, dealt to Boston from the Maple Leafs in exchange for Andrew Raycroft seven years ago. The 25-year-old Rask now has gone 7-1-0 against Toronto after his 21-save shutout. How good would the Maple Leafs be with him in goal?

With Hamilton and Rask as their No. 1 netminder, the balanced Bruins are Stanley Cup contenders once again. But like any elite team they will have to stay healthy. They beat the Maple Leafs without third-line forward Daniel Paille and important fourth-line leader Shawn Thornton on Saturday.

Special night for Tardif

But the absence of the two veterans opened the door for 28-year-old Jamie Tardif to play his first NHL game after more than 450 minor-league regular season and playoff games.

Tardif only hopped over the boards for eight shifts and 5:30 of ice time in his debut effort, but he did have a couple scoring chances in the second period. Besides, just pulling on No. 68 with the spoked B logo on the front made this night special for those who know his steadfast story.

He and his centre Jordan Staal helped the Peterborough Petes with the 2005-06 OHL championship. But the Welland, Ont. native never did sign with the Calgary Flames, the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2003 NHL entry draft.

Instead, he eventually hooked up with Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. But there was no room for advancement in that organization. So after five seasons with Grand Rapids, Tardif had his hope renewed after the Bruins came calling.

Then, on Thursday evening, while on the bus with his Providence teammates, head coach Bruce Cassidy came to the back of the bus to tell Tardif he had been promoted.

"I always tried to stay positive," Tardif said. "Boston is a good fit for my style of play which is gritty and going hard to the net. I think the lockout actually helped me. The coaches were there almost every practice."

His skating was the skill that held Tardif back. But he's right. He did make an impression on head coach Claude Julien and the Bruins management team during the lockout. He has a scoring touch. He has grit. He has determination.

Inspirational trainer

He also had inspiration in former NHLer-turned-personal trainer Aaron Downey. While working out in Downey's barn in Shelburne, Ont., the past few summers, Downey kept telling his client to keep pushing because you never know.

Downey didn't play his first NHL game until age 25 and went on to play 243 games with the Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens and Red Wings.

"He's been my inspiration," said Tardif, who played a season with Downey in Grand Rapids. "He's helped my development and he has kept me focused on the right things. I can't thank him enough."

When Tardif was asked if he knew his old junior stomping grounds in Peterborough was the site of next week's Hockey Day in Canada he admitted he didn't know about the celebration.

"Isn't that something?" he said. "I hope I'm still with the Bruins when it happens."

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The Staals look back fondly at their Peterborough days

Eric and Jordan Staal occasionally take a peek at the Ontario Hockey League standings and they don't like what they see these days.

Their old junior club, the Peterborough Petes, uncharacteristically has been mired in a three-season long slump. Unless the Petes can overcome a six-point deficit to the Kingston Frontenacs in the final 17 games of the season, they will miss the playoffs for a third straight season after missing only three times in the first 54 years of existence.

The current funk has been difficult to take for the hockey-mad town of Peterborough, Ont., the site of Hockey Day in Canada on Saturday.

"For sure, it has been disappointing to see what has happened there. It's such a storied franchise," Eric Staal said. Each Staal brother scored in the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre Monday night.

"One thing that seemed certain when I played there and my brother played there was that the Petes would contend every season," Eric added. "But I understand the organization is trying hard to make some changes. Hopefully, better times are ahead."

The Peterborough TPT's (the junior team's original name because the company that sponsored it was called Toronto Peterborough Transportation) were born in 1956 when the Kitchener Greenshirts moved East to the Central Ontario town.

Petes' impressive roster history

This list of players who have played for the Petes is impressive.

Bob Gainey, Keith Acton, Bob Berry, Bill and Barclay Plager, Doug Jarvis, Colin Campbell, John Garrett, Mickey and Dick Redmond, Greg Millen, Dave Reid, Larry Murphy, Dallas Eakins, Luke Richardson, Bob Errey, Steve Yzerman, Mike Ricci, Chris Pronger, Cameron Mann, Cory Stillman, Jamie Langenbrunner, the Staal brothers, Zach Bogosian were just a few.

The coaching list also is impressive: Scotty Bowman, Roger Neilson, Mike Keenan, Gary Green and Dick Todd.

In total, the Petes have put in more than 150 in the NHL. Wayne Gretzky played three games for Peterborough as a 15-year-old. My favourite, Steve Larmer, played a full season for his hometown as a 16-year-old before he was drafted by the Niagara Falls Flyers.

"It's inspiring when you see all the names who played for the Petes," said Jordan Staal, who played on the Petes' last OHL championship team in 2005-06. "You don't want to let the organization or the fans down. You know what they expect because of their history."

The Petes have won a record nine OHL titles, made a record nine visits to the Memorial Cup tournament and advanced a record six times to the Memorial Cup final. But Peterborough has celebrated only one Memorial Cup championship in 1979.

Rock bottom

This season hit rock bottom earlier when Dave Reid and Mike Pelino were fired as general manager and head coach, respectively. The Petes have slightly improved under interim GM Mike Oke and interim head coach Jody Hull, who played four seasons for the Petes in mid-1980s. They have gone 8-5-3 since Hull took over.

The Petes also lured former captain Dave Lorentz as a board member. Now principal at Lakefield and District Secondary School, Lorentz was part of the 1989 OHL championship team and he certainly is a respected member of the community.

So maybe the Petes are on the right track to restoring the storied franchise. The Staals certainly hope so.

"When I went to Peterborough [for the 2000-01 season] it was my first time away from home," said Eric, a Thunder Bay, Ont., native. "My parents were comfortable with the situation. I couldn't think of a better place to prepare myself for the NHL.

"[Then Petes GM] Jeff Twohey was great. My billets were great. The people in the city were so supportive and kind. I have nothing but fond memories of that place and, for me, it's neat to hear that Peterborough will be celebrated on Hockey Day in Canada."

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