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CLOVER VALLEY… So you already know the New York Rangers canned former Head Coach John Tortorella at the end of last season. You know that he is tightly wound and had been flippant and truculent with the NY media. He takes his players to their limit and then asks for even more. Torts, as you also might know has won a Stanley Cup. He did that in the 2003-04 season while coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning. The guy can coach. He probably got more out of the Rangers the past couple of years then he should have. He did this to the point whereby he wore out his welcome and the club felt it necessary to end their relationship.
Because the Rangers were the parent team of one of my childhood faves, the St. Paul Rangers, I kind of pull for the Blueshirts and have liked Torts over the years. Lets face it, he IS an exciting guy. Yeah I know, he is sometimes like playing the clarinet over the wicker basket to see if the Cobra is going to pop out, but that’s part of his allure isn’t it? Is he going to entertain us tonight or not? We are almost stoically disappointed when he doesn’t come through and give us one of those trademark 15 second presser’s and then tells the assembled media to screw off on his way out the door. This is life with Torts.
You could say he that he was sometimes unprofessional and I wouldn’t argue with you. On the other hand he is genuine, honest and his passion for his team, players and for the game is mostly off the charts. If you wanted to debate that I would argue with you. I was glad to see John land on his feet as the Vancouver Canuck Head Coach. I think the Canuck brain trust thought this over long and hard. GM Mike Gillis had one heck of a sales job to perform for the team ownership, but he got it done and Torts was brought on board. And in one of the weirdest twists of the off season, Alain Vigneault, Torts predecessor in Vancouver came out East to take the NY job.
I think in those few weeks between the Rangers playoff ouster and his hire out West that John had taken pause to do some self reflection and soul searching. What we have seen from his press intro up until now has been a positive turn around from his final months in the Big Apple. John understands the spotlight is on him and that he and his actions will be under the microscope from here on out. He has performed well. There have been times that I thought he might be about to lose it and didn’t. He has put all things Canuck into a positive, thoughtful narrative.
I have wondered which Vancouver reporter might be the first to try to bait Torts into a negative situation and how he might handle that. I contemplated how he might handle indifferent performance from the team or individual players. The team had kind of an indifferent start, then had a stretch where they were playing lights out, and then have recently had a really downward run, going 2-5-3 in their last 10. In fact, for the last week
I have had an unofficial Torts “watch” underway. No one likes losing and John doesn’t usually tolerate it very well. So, my mental telepathy must have been working overtime because on Saturday eve we got a blast from the past. And considering what went down I have to stand with Torts on this one. But he did pretty much go into full scale hockey meltdown.
Against the lowly Calgary Flames, to start the game off, bench boss Bob Hartley, whom I generally have a decent regard for, starts the tilt with his 4th line, featuring two enforcers.
What is Torts supposed to do? If he starts his 1st line with the Sedin twins, he runs the risk of them getting roughed up, with the heavy likelihood of postgame fan and media tongue lashing. And if he matches up his 4th line to the Flames, the ensuing chaos is as predictable as day turning into night. Two seconds post face-off, all h-e-double hockey sticks broke out.
There were multiple game ejections and penalty minutes issued, and there were a few more skirmishes before the game ended with a Canuck victory. The Coup de’ grace
though occurred at the 1st intermission when Torts reportedly attempted to enter the Flame dressing room to engage Hartley in god-knows-what with less then good intent, vacant stare and forehead veins a-bulging to boot. Of course this was headline news, especially tailor made for non-hockey media types. Bring in baseball guru-analyst Peter Gammons. Since my second love to hockey is baseball, I like Pete and find his insight into baseball interesting and informative.
After the game we got a “Pete-tweet” that basically stated “this is why hockey will always be a minor sport”. Yikes! I get it Pete. I cringe a bit when things like this happen as well. The days when I thought an event like this was just “part of the game” have passed. I am at a point where I can even do without any fighting in the game. Just give me the beauty, power and grace of a hard fought contest. It is the best sport as far as I am concerned. But a “minor” sport?
Please Mr. Gammons, the league revenues, player salaries, TV exposure and sold-out arenas beg to differ with your opinion. Perhaps what you really meant to say is that events like this are why hockey will never be accepted by mainstream sports fans who will never take the time for one reason or another to learn about, understand, and appreciate the game enough to ever accept it anyway. After watching for over 50 years this is what I have concluded. There are some sports fans out there who are never going to like hockey and that’s that. It’s OK.
In the meantime Pete, you cover a league with an impotent, dysfunctional Commissioner who has allowed one issue to go on for way too long and is just now possibly cleaning it up and hasn’t even began to try to figure out a way to deal with all of the long held sacred personal all-time records possibly tainted by this phenomena. Stay on your side of the fence Pete… PEACE
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.