CEDAR RAPIDS — There was never pressure from dad.
Jordan Tonelli played some baseball growing up. He tried lacrosse and basketball, too.
But when it came down to it, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward decided to be just like his famous father, John. A hockey player.
“He definitely always let me do my own thing,” Jordan Tonelli said. “But at the same time, when I’m playing, I always know what he was and what he did. I’m always trying to follow in his footsteps.”
Those are big footsteps. Or hockey skates, if you will.
John Tonelli played over 1,000 games in the National Hockey League, another 200-plus in the old World Hockey Association. He won four consecutive Stanley Cup titles with the New York Islanders from 1979-83, scored 42 goals and 100 points in the 1984-85 season.
“I’d watch all of their games,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “I lived in suburban New York at that time, remember tons of those players.”
Guys like Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom. Some of the all-time greats.
Jordan Tonelli has met most of them.
“I think as much as my dad tried to let me choose my own path, ultimately, it was me trying to be like him,” he said, wearing an Islanders T-shirt after Thursday’s practice. “He coached me growing up. Being on the ice with him, nothing matched that feeling.
“I think we play the same style. He has always preached to me work ethic and energy. I think those are two things I definitely bring and try to always have in my game.”
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Tonelli has a pair of goals and six assists in 22 games for the Riders, who host Muskegon for games Friday and Saturday at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The 18-year-old is in his first season here.
“As a compliment to him, he is relentless,” Carlson said. “He works his tail off, gets around the rink, makes enough plays. He’s getting acclimated to the league. He’s a really important player for us, brings pace and work ethic and character and personality. He can play center, and he can play wing. He’s getting better.”
Tonelli played prep school hockey out east last year. The Brown University commitment’s first turn in the United States Hockey League is going well, even if it did not begin well.
In C.R.’s third game of the season, Tonelli got into a fight with a Chicago opponent considerably more experienced on the pugilistic side of the sport. A couple of landed punches broke Tonelli’s nose and cheekbone and gave him a concussion.
He missed six games, though he earned respect for sticking up for a teammate in the situation.
“I didn’t have any fighting experience, kind of went in there blind, not to protect myself but kind of go after the guy. That came back to haunt me,” Tonelli said. “That was kind of hard, just because I felt I was just getting my feet wet, getting my feet underneath me, then I had to start over ... It definitely has been an adjustment, just in terms of pace, hockey all the time. But I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I’m just getting better every day, and that’s what it’s all about.”
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