By Stu Hackel
As a group, hockey coaches don’t often command the spotlight when the cameras roll. They defer to their players and reserve whatever fiery rhetorical skills they possess for the sanctity of the dressing room.
Guys like Dale Hunter and Darryl Sutter will never make the list of the century’s great orators, anyway. But then there’s the Rangers’ John Tortorella, the subject of the video tribute above (the great work of DJ Steve Porter who, as Yahoo’s Puck Daddy Editor Greg Wyshynski relates, has a pretty impressive history of remixing video clips, hockey and otherwise) that appeared on Saturday over Hockey Night In Canada.
Torts is the most outwardly passionate NHL coach of recent times. Some of it could be calculated, as Dave Stubbs of The Montreal Gazette speculates. “The coach’s shtick probably is carefully crafted to take heat off his team, give the opponent as little information as possible and keep the media off balance.” And some may not, as Stan Fischler, who has followed and worked in hockey for most of his 80 years, told Stubbs. “John is very much like Toe Blake was with the Canadiens,” Fischler said. “Like Toe, John’s emotional level remains very high for a very long time after a game. That’s what you often see in his news conferences.”
As a member of the MSG Network crew, Fischler has seen a lot of Torts’ act, as has anyone who has followed his rise from assistant coach to Stanley Cup Champion in Tampa Bay to the curmudgeon on TSN’s hockey panel (sadly, none of his fantastically angry appearances on the “Quiz” segment can be found online) to his current leading role on Broadway.
There’s a great unpredictability about Tortorella. He’s not adverse to criticizing his own players publicly, but he can also reveal none of his thoughts about them. He will provide insightful answers, but just as frequently, he’ll go radio silent on strategy and tactics. He can be very forthcoming and he can berate a questioner. He’s been fined by the NHL for his remarks about officiating and other teams, and now he’ll often stop short when answering, fearful of another hit to his savings account.
When it’s time for his postgame observations, you’d best not head to the kitchen for a snack as he steps behind the microphones. Torts can be awfully brief, like here. Sometimes he can be even briefer, like here. But whether he’s limited or lengthy, civil or curt, Tortorella is never dull. Stubbs calls him “fittingly showbiz in the world’s headquarters of the theatre.”
That said, here are some of John Tortorella’s greatest hits. To get you started, this is a compilation produced by TSN, his employer for about half a year when he was not coaching.
Viewers of HBO’s 24/7 got a strong taste of his demanding style in the run-up to the Winter Classic.
That sort of heated discourse was on display in every episode. You had to wonder how long the players would stomach it, but they finished first in the Eastern Conference. Even as recently as last week, analysts on TSN’s That’s Hockey program wondered if his being disrespectful to players would burn them out (video). It hasn’t happened yet.
After the Winter Classic, Tortorella alleged that the NHL and NBC may have gotten together to effect the outcome of the game. That got him a nice-sized fine.
In November, Torts had this little exchange when Sharks captain Joe Thornton made critical remarks about the Rangers.
In March, Tortorella got into it with Devils coach Pete DeBoer, who had accused him of being a hypocrite, after Torts objected to the manufactured fisticuffs that had started the two most recent games between the teams.
With the advent of in-game interviews by NBC, Torts has provided some amusing moments, like this one with Brian Engblom.
Just last weekend, in Game 7 against the Capitals, Torts started laughing at his own reticence with Pierre McGuire.
Here’s his press briefing before the start of the Eastern Conference Final where you can see the entire spectrum of Tortorella interaction. He’s abrupt, voluble, defensive, aggressive, generous and cautious all in a matter of minutes.
(We don’t agree with him at all about the red line but, as he says, it’s a discussion for another day.)
Mount Tortorella erupted against the Penguins after an April game in which Derek Stepan went knee on knee with Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik.
But perhaps his most famous confrontations have been with New York Post hockey scribe Larry Brooks, the first dating back to 2007.
One thing is certain: A John Tortorella press conference is usually not rated PG.
After seeing that one, his former co-worker on TSN, James Duthie, said that gathering had “more beeps than a Road Runner cartoon.”
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