Polite, soft spoken, and cliched.
If you were to describe an NHL bench boss, or any player for that matter, those would be the three words that you would most likely use. Coaching styles and methodology aside, these guys are cookie cutter professionals. They say the right things, they do the right things, and you can almost pinpoint what they are going to say before they say it.
“We need to be better,” the Coach says, “They beat us to pucks. We need to work on our PP/PK. We need to be more accountable for our mistakes, shake off this loss, and move on and focus on the next game.”
“The guys played well, they were moving their legs, getting to the tough areas,” says Coach of the Anytown Anybodies.
So why are we so quick to jump down the throats of our big personalities?
It’s an argument that was made last year during HBO’s 24/7 featuring the Penguins and the Capitals; Bruce Boudreau’s excessive use of those famous four letter words — the ones we know so well but refuse to let on that we ourselves use just as frequently — had us all shaking our heads and crying out for mercy from this tyrant. The cursing! The attitude! The treatment of his players! My, oh my, the… personality?
How long has it been since we have seen something the likes of that? The behind the scenes look that includes the flip out, the enraged maniacal tirade of a coach who is fed up? In the NHL, you would be about right to presume that we haven’t seen anything quite like it since the days of Don Cherry — Good Ol’ Grapes — patrolling the bench for the Bruins.
You have got to admit, there is, in an odd way, a charm to it; you know, the out of control coach or the one that you know may go off at any moment.
Tortorella hoisted the Stanley Cup as Lightning head coach in 2003-04
I am not afraid to admit that when I first started recognizing John Tortorella it was for these reasons — and man, did I ever despise the guy.
What a pompous ass, I thought. Here is this guy, one of the best jobs in the world, and he can’t even deal with the media asking him simple questions. He’s a jerk. No two ways about it. I couldn’t believe that someone would want their team, their players, represented by this guy.
But then he became a part of the panel on TSN.He was a breath of fresh air. Honest, to the point, and old school in his thinking. He was an interesting coach, brought to light some things that the rest of the panel couldn’t, and he even made sure not to mask his feelings about the “famous” TSN Quiz. No doubt, it was funny.
Then, as with almost every coach who has appeared on the NHL on TSN panel, he moved on to bigger and better things — a coaching job in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden for Glen Sather and his Rangers.
It wouldn’t be long before Torts was in the spotlight on Broadway, either. The Blueshirts bench boss for only months, Tortorella helped boost the Rangers into the playoffs, facing off against the high-powered Washington Capitals. In the series, a grueling battle that went the full seven games, Tortorella would get into a verbal battle with a fan before the altercation escalated with Torts throwing a water bottle and attempting to get at him with a stick. Suspended for one game, Tortorella was in some hot water.
Like him or not, Tortorella wins.
The following year, Tortorella would coach the Rangers to within a point of playoff berth, but have them back to the playoffs again in 2010-11.
While his success is undeniable — he won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2003-04 and is the winningest American coach of all-time — it is his temper that make him such a polarizing figure.
Just ask Larry Brooks.
“Brooksie” and Tortorella have been in their fair share of yelling matches, most notably a moment where Torts seemingly challenged Brooks to a fight or told him to “get the f** * out of here” on live television, but it’s those moments that keep fans tuned in to him and hanging on every word he says.
Taking the reigns from Tom Renney, Tortorella has been the coach of the Rangers for three seasons now
So why is the media so up in arms about his “No Idea” press conference or his comments shooting back at Joe Thornton?
He made the media laugh, and he defended his players. He’s a story, a quote machine, and produces endless material. He’s great in his interviews and, sure, sometimes he doesn’t really say anything and sometimes he says too much, but he provided the entire hockey world with some entertainment.
Years from now, we’ll remember the press conference where he said he had “no idea” about the date of his mother’s birth or when he got in a verbal scuffle with Brooks. We’ll remember him getting suspended — in the playoffs no less — for his outburst towards a fan. Hell, we still remember Mike Milbury and his shoe and that was over 30 years ago.
Tortorella is the opposite of what we have come to expect, and it’s great. Like him or not, you have got to admit that he has made you chuckle once or twice. If that’s not for you, there’s 29 other coaches who will be glad to put you to sleep tonight.