Odeen Tufto saw in Tampa Bay Lightning what he'd seen in Quinnipiac

Quinnipiac forward Odeen Tufto looks on during an NCAA hockey game against St. Lawrence.

Quinnipiac forward Odeen Tufto looks on during an NCAA hockey game against St. Lawrence.

Adrian Kraus / Associated Press

Odeen Tufto’s favorite hockey player was Martin St. Louis, who rode a 5-foot-8 frame to a Hall of Fame career mostly with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The current Lightning roster has five forwards under 6 feet tall.

Tufto, the 5-7 former Quinnipiac standout, talked over his future with his family and his advisors and wanted in. He signed with the Lightning on March 31 and made his professional debut a week later for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

“We felt Tampa does a really good job of developing players, especially here in Syracuse,” Tufto told reporters Friday in a Crunch media availability. “They have a true gift for helping out small guys. For me, that was what attracted me to Quinnipiac.”

All Tufto did in Hamden was lead the Bobcats in scoring for four years, coming a point shy of the school record for scoring in Division I, earning the captaincy, helping them to the NCAA tournament this season. He was named a first-team All-American on Friday.

Once the Bobcats were eliminated on March 27 to end his collegiate career, he spoke to several organizations but chose the Lightning. He has an NHL contract for next year and will play the rest of the year for the Crunch on an AHL tryout.

The Lightning pitch, Tufto said, came on a Zoom call with team officials that included Jeff Tambellini, the former Bridgeport Sound Tigers standout who’s now the Lightning’s NCAA recruiter, and Jared Waimon, the team’s goaltending scout and a former Quinnipiac goaltending coach.

“When I talked to Julien (BriseBois, general manager) and the other staff on the Zoom call, I felt they really wanted me and wanted to give me an opportunity,” Tufto said. “They felt one day I could play for the Tampa Bay Lightning. That excited me. For me in hockey it’s all been about opportunity.”

In his debut Wednesday, an overtime win at Rochester, N.Y., Tufto had no points or shots but was on the ice for a Crunch power-play goal.

Quinnipiac forward Odeen Tufto, left, looks to pass as Minnesota State defenseman Akito Hirose defends in the second period of an NCAA West Regional semifinal.

Quinnipiac forward Odeen Tufto, left, looks to pass as Minnesota State defenseman Akito Hirose defends in the second period of an NCAA West Regional semifinal.

David Zalubowski / Associated Press

He said he felt he was able to play the way he wanted to play.

“I felt it was a pretty good 200-foot game,” Tufto said.

Syracuse was scheduled to host Utica on Saturday. The Comets on Friday played their first game since March 10 because of a COVID-19 pause.

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp