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The Hawks returned Tanti to Oshawa that fall and again last season. The rap against Tanti was that he was too short (5'9") and not fast or quick enough for the NHL. Chicago did bring him up for a cameo appearance last Dec. 18 in a game against Toronto, and he scored his first NHL goal. However, Tanti was sent back to Oshawa and then traded to Vancouver on Jan. 6 for Wing Curt Fraser.
Tanti learned about the deal from his mother, who had heard news of the trade on the radio while driving from the family home in Mississauga to an Oshawa road game in Brantford, Ont. "When I got to the rink the team was warming up," says Mary Tanti, "so I leaned over the boards and told Tony he'd been traded." As she says, she only gets to talk to him at the rink.
"I was glad," says Tanti. "I don't think they gave me a fair shot in Chicago."
Tanti's eight goals and eight assists in 39 games last year with the Canucks hardly blew the doors out of Pacific Coliseum, but his three goals and three assists in the last nine games of the regular season augured his productivity this year. "It was a case of our finding the right center for him," says Vancouver Coach Roger Neilson, who late last year put Tanti on right wing with Center Patrik Sundstrom, 21, the Canucks' best play-maker. The third man on the line, arch-goon Dave (Tiger) Williams, plays left cop, seeing to it that opposing defensemen don't take liberties with Vancouver's two young scoring stars.
Tanti may not need that much protection, however. "I got a lot of penalties in Junior A," he says, "because I never back down. Goal-scorers get attention, but if they come at me to hurt me, I'm coming back at them." Tanti was true to his words last Wednesday in Vancouver. After being slammed into the boards by Winnipeg's Paul MacLean, he came back at his 6-foot, 205-pound antagonist with a cross-check across the shoulder blades and a few punches to the body before linesmen broke up the fight.
Tanti's scoring and toughness have added much needed excitement to the Canucks, who like Neilson's teams in Toronto and Buffalo, play a dull, defensive, clutch-and-grab style that bores fans from Boston to British Columbia. "I used to get most of my goals on instinct," Tanti said Friday after his flip-in of a rebound beat Winnipeg Goalie Brian Hayward and helped Vancouver to a 4-2 win. "But this season, if I don't see the opening, I can hold the puck until something happens."
"The puck seems to follow him around," says Neilson, who no doubt wishes the rest of the Canucks would follow Tanti around. But the Canucks need more than Tanti's scoring. As the season neared the quarter pole, the 8-9-1 Canucks had the league's third-worst defense (81 goals allowed), worst penalty-killing record and a mysterious inability to win in their Smythe—a.k.a. the Cream Puff—Division, where they were 0-4-1 before beating the Jets last week.
Tanti aside, that's tantimount to disaster. More lightning, guys. Please.