The measure of what Dana Tenenbaum means to the North York Rangers can be demonstrated by a story that head coach John Dean likes to tell.
While the captain was recovering from an early-season injury, two players in unrelated situations approached Dean to be scratched from the lineup, just so Tenenbaum could sit on the bench.
The man they call “bomber” could hardly complete pre-game warm-ups, so tender was his ailment, yet the team played with an increased energy-level from the previous contest and came out with the win with only 19 able-bodied players.
“I guess the guys feel a little safer when I’m there,” said the big 20-year-old defender outside of the Rangers dressing room after a 3-2 victory over Milton.
“I guess not too many guys on any team are that vocal and the voice that I kind of bring to the room a lot of guys like, it helps them feel comfortable. I can’t say what it’s like when I’m not out there, but we have been on quite the roll since I came back.”
‘Quite the roll’ is a bit of an understatement.
The Rangers went 5-7 when he was out of the line-up in November to suspension, but have gone undefeated since he returned; a streak of 12 games.
At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Tenenbaum is as physically imposing a player as any in the league. As the rules around fighting have tightened, the Mississauga-native’s other talents have really come to the forefront as he has done a tremendous job staying out of the penalty box while using his size and strength to impose his will along the wall and in the defensive zone.
For him, it is about doing whatever it takes to bring wins to the club.
“Changing momentum is my biggest goal,” he said.
“If something doesn’t go our way one shift, I like doing something the next shift – like a big hit or a good pinch or something – to shift momentum in the game.”
The Rangers skipper did not start playing hockey until the relatively late age of eight years old, and only did so at the beginning in order to spend more time with his friends. Yet as time passed, he realized how much he enjoyed it and how good he was, and it did not take long for him to shift from House League to the higher, more organized levels of the game.
Tenenbaum first wore the Rangers jersey in bantam where he was coached by Dean. Although it appears today as if the two are cut from the exact same cloth, according to Dana, it wasn’t a great relationship at the beginning.
“He cut me from North York after bantam,” Tenenbaum said with a grin.
“So that’s when I first met him. I didn’t really like him, but I also didn’t really know him.”
After a series of moves that took the tall teenager from the Don Mills Flyers midget triple-a, through to the OJHL’s Brampton Capitals and Wellington Dukes, as well as a brief stint in British Columbia with the Coquitlam Express, Tenenbaum was acquired by the Rangers mid-way through last season.
And he has not looked back, parlaying a high character and leadership level into being named captain ahead of this season; a distinction that he does not take for granted, and one that he wears with tremendous pride.
“It’s probably the thing I am most proud about in my life right now,” Tenenbaum said back in October.
“It’s pretty special, especially playing here when I was younger, seeing the junior team playing and being around that for quite a few years. To be able to play junior hockey and to be the captain of this team, it’s pretty neat, it’s a huge honour and hopefully I’m doing a good job.”
Jacob Keogh, the Rangers starting goaltender since Jason Pucciarelli went down at the very beginning of the aforementioned unbeaten streak, has had much to gain from his captain’s presence – both in the dressing room and the defensive zone.
“He really is amazing,” Keogh said.
“He will do absolutely anything for the team to win. He hits, he gets the team fired up and on some nights I’m pretty sure he blocks more shots than I do. When he isn’t there, the team is different in a very clear and obvious way.”
There are certainly two sides to Tenenbaum.
At game-time he can be as intense as anybody in the league, such as when on Oct. 27 at Mississauga he felt that a Charger had gone after the Rangers’ youngest player, Matthew Whittaker, with a cheap-shot. Tenenbaum took personal exception, as he would for anybody on the team, and went right in to protect the rookie with an almost unbridled tenacity.
Yet off the ice he is a friendly, engaging and well-spoken young man with a personality that dominates the Rangers dressing room, and he has used that power to instill in his charges a never-say-die, aggressive mentality that has aided the team in their quest to be one of the premier units in the league.
And as far as Coach Dean is concerned, there is no doubt who the captain of his ship is.
“This is not my team,” he said without flinching.
“This is Dana Tenenbaum’s team.”
Dana wishes to play college hockey in the States next year and has the character, leadership and physical abilities to be tremendously successful wherever he ends up.