THE IRREPRESSIBLE TORTS EFFECT
Say what you will about John Tortorella — and a ton have — the man draws conversation like a monstrous magnet.
I consider Torts a good friend, going back to his days in Tampa Bay when he molded the Bolts into a Cup-winning team.
At the time, he wasn’t nearly as notorious as he’d become in New York and all points west as far as Vancouver and now in the City of Brotherly Love.
If nothing else, John is a survivor — some would say “Thriver” — because he keeps coming back like a song.
Others would describe Tort-ism as one helluva act. And if that’s the case, he’s constantly in demand.
“He makes good copy,” says my pal Glenn Dreyfuss, who produces excellent hockey shows and covers Seattle for me.
The Tortorella “copy” is so good that John doesn’t have to be around to talk about himself. There always seems to be “someone else” with a dozen stories about the electrifying bench boss.
One such witness for the defense is Andre Roy who recently appeared on the “Squid And The ULF” podcast. Roy and Torts were comrades on Tampa Bay’s 2004 Cup-Winners which means that they got along sometimes and, on other occasions,
Mount John would erupt all over the winger.
During the 2003 Bolts-Caps playoff, Roy took what he considered an undeserved roughing penalty.
Roy: “I go in the box and I look across. I could see Torts pacing behind the bench, staring at me. I’m crossing my fingers, my legs, my arms. ‘Please, guys, kill the penalty.’ But Washington scored.
“So, I do the skate of shame to the bench and Torts is waiting for me. ‘You blankety-blank selfish…sit your ass over there. You are done. I don’t want to hear anything! Go sit!'”
Then, a pause and Roy’s comment says what makes Torts so compelling to so many of us: “When he loses it, there’s nothing you can do. We had a lot of F-bomb matchups.”
What we who know John know is that — away from the rink — he’s a kind, giving, loyal and all-around wonderful guy.
And, believe it or not, his persona has changed for the better from experience behind the bench not to mention behind the camera at ESPN where he became a beloved, compelling performer.
“He’s a good coach,” Roy concludes. “Torts is very prepared, watching video and whatnot. He’s going to have a good impact in Philly because he’s also a great guy; involved in the community and great to talk to off the ice.”
John’s hockey personality was formed when he played for the University of Maine and revealed his passion. “I’ve never seen anyone around with a will like his,” said his coach, Jack Semler. “Don’t fool with him.”
That intensity was evident in Tampa Bay when my pal Jay Feaster was g.m. of the Bolts. Jay tells a story that says it all about Torts temper after a playoff loss but before John had to meet the media. Feaster said he and his coach got nose to nose. And the dialogue went like this:
“I don’t want you to go out there (with the media) until you’re fine. Are you fine?” Jay demanded
Torts: “Yeah, I’m really okay.”
Then, Feaster said Torts appeared in front of cameras and cursed a reporter!
The best Tortorella profile that I ever read was written by Craig Wolff in the Newark Star-Ledger during the 2012 Rangers-Devils playoff. Here are a couple of excerpts.
“Old coaches, friends, family and teammates say that ‘posturing’ is not his (Torts) thing. It’s not contrived,” wrote Wolff.
Craig got to Torts’ father who said, “John never relaxes.”
Wolff tells a story about how — after Tortorella got his first job with the Lightning — Torts discovered that Vinnie Lecavalier’s name was on the “Choice Parking” spot adjoining the arena. According to Feaster, Torts told the parking guy, “I’m the coach. This is my spot.”
Of course, he got it; and Lecavalier parked somewhere else.
But that was long ago. Coaching in the East and the West — not to mention working before the ESPN cameras all last season — has changed The man for the better — but without removing the inner fire.
I loved him in New York — between scoldings — and they’ll love him in Pennsylvania, especially on Broad Street and the cheesesteak joints he’s already checked out.
Torts act reminds me of the legendary comedian-producer-actor, Mel Brooks. He goes on and on because — when all’s said and done — he still has an awfully good act.
No, delete that last line.
When Mister Tortorella is center stage, it’s a great act!
THE BIG QUESTION: WHAT’S GONNA BE WITH P.K. SUBBAN?
The Answer: The irrepressible defender will find a home since the King Clancy Award-winner needs to be out there. You have to think he’ll get a training camp invite. If not, New Jersey clairvoyant George Falkowski predicts, “P.K. is destined for a long, prosperous media career.”
DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NAMES FOR NEW AHL TEAMS
The Flames’ baby AHL sextet has been christened The Calgary Wranglers. How appropriate. Wrangler is a person in charge of horses or livestock on a ranch. I say perfecto for the home of the “Stampede” — but not Johnny Gaudreau!
I’M JUST SAYIN’
* Just wondering what percentage of hockey fans out there really care about how much dough their favorite player makes in a season.
* My guess is that it’s not more than 25 percent and likely a lot less. * Face it, the figures — the terms — are downright boring.
* Prior to last season, THN’s Ryan Kennedy picked the five best NHLers in this order: 1. Connor McDavid; 2. Nathan MacKinnon; 3. Nikita Kucherov; 4. Auston Matthews and, 5. Cale Makar.
* For my money, the list holds up almost a year later. But Adam Fox in sixth place should be dropped to 12.
* Sadly, Carey Price is off the list for next season.
* The Kadri Watch has moved from suspenseful to melodramatic.
* In another week or so, it again will go up the emotional ladder to breathtaking.
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY TO TOM FITZGERALD. The Devils GM has done some superior off-season work. I especially like the fact that he picked up a veteran scorer with Cup credentials in Palat and restructured the defense, His moves to help coach Lindy Ruff look very good.
INTERESTING HOCKEY PEOPLE YOU SHOULD KNOW — TIM BEEVER, DEAN OF THE DIGITAL
They call me “The Hockey Maven” but there are about three tons that I don’t know about our favorite game.
So that means there are folks out there who can help me over the mental potholes.
One such miracle man is Tim Beever of St.Louis where I once revered Stan (The Man) Musial and his 1942 World Series champion Cardinals.
For want of a better word, I call Beever a collector-archivist-historian. If I need to know something — or find a magazine or anything — and nobody else can help me, odds are Tim will come through.
“I’ve always been a collector of something in my life,” Tim told me, “and 15 years ago I decided to focus on hockey. Just 12 years ago I began my actual archiving.
“What really got me started was an archiving project for The Hockey News. I connected with Paul Patskou, who was helping, and I loaned several hundred issues to be scanned for the THN project.
“At the time, I had all these other magazines, programs and guides. I thought, ‘Why not get these scanned as well?’ My aim was to create the largest digital archive of hockey publications.”
What Beever has accomplished did not emerge without help. Historian-archivists like the great Paul Patskou and Ultimate Maple Leafs fan Mike Wilson — along with my longtime Hockey News editor Jason Kay — were instrumental, along with another buddy of mine, Len Gould.
When I asked Tim to describe how the collection works, his reply was both simple and complicated. I’ll let you decide.
Beever: “The collection is pdf versions of every major hockey publication. They include popular titles such as Blueline, Hockey Illustrated, Hockey Pictorial, Hockey World, Hockey Scene and so forth.
“It includes over 3,000 game programs, all NHL team media guides from 1968-69 to current guides, Junior and minor leagues. Anything I could get my hands on relating to hockey, I digitized. When I want a specific magazine, guide, program, press release or whatever, I just connect to my external hard drive and the publication is there for me in a couple of clicks.”
The beauty part of Beever and his operation is that he’s far from selfish about it. He shares his collection with former players, friends and families of players; not to mention authors and researchers.
“My goal,” Beever concludes, “is to have this material available for other hockey ‘Nerds’ so info can be readily available to them.”
Frankly, I only have five words for the astonishing Tim Beever — I can’t thank you enough!
WHO SAID IT? “Everybody should believe in something; I believe I’ll have another drink.” (ANSWER BELOW.)
Editor’s Note: From time to time, I’ll look back to historic moments in hockey history. The first edition follows:
FRANK PATRICK — WAS HE MORE IMPORTANT THAN BROTHER LESTER? NO AND YES!
(Part 1 of 3)
Contemporary hockey fans have heard of Lester Patrick, thanks to the trophy annually awarded for service to hockey in the United States.
Serious historians know Lester for his Hall of Fame playing days as well as his stewardship of the Rangers from the club’s inception in 1926 through his departure from the New York scene following World War II.
That included coaching New York Stanley Cup-winners in 1928 and 1933 and — with Frank Boucher coaching, 1940.
While Lester’s exploits — he was forced to play goal in the 1928 Final and beat the Maroons when his goalie Lorne Chabot was badly injured — were legendary, there was another Patrick, doing marvelous hockey things.
Unfortunately, Lester’s kid brother has become a forgotten hero although his accomplishments can match and occasionally exceed his sibling’s.
“Frank Patrick would build a whole new hockey empire on the West Coast,” wrote author Eric Whitehead in The Patricks — Hockey’s Royal Family. “He would change the face of the game with his special genius for innovation. And he would have a major role in the establishment of the modern NHL.”
What follows is not an attempt to diminish the fine work of Lestet but rather to publicize, if you will, Frank Patrick’s claim to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’m doing this, partly because Frank has gotten short shrift from the media in terms of his numerous contributions to the ice game.
This is not an isolated opinion, mind you. A good 76 years ago — writing in the Vancouver Province — Ken McConnell got right to the point: “Frank,” asserted McConnell, “is one of the most famous of hockey leaders.”
Frank was the wise one who introduced the blue line, the forward pass and the post-season playoff system to hockey.
That’s not all. He was the first to have players’ numbers on the backs of their sweaters and changed the rule that forbade goalies to fall to the ice.
As one historian noted, “Frank Patrick often was called ‘The Brains Of Modern Hockey.” And one reason for that is that today’s official rule book still contains 22 pieces of legislation he introduced.
Frank and Lester grew up the sons of a successful lumber magnate who moved from Quebec to British Columbia. The brothers worked for the business while honing their hockey skills to sharpness.
When they helped develop the then major Pacific Coast Hockey League, Frank starred on defense for Vancouver, managed the team and acted as president of the league; a unique hockey trifecta.
Thanks to Frank, Canada had its first artificial ice plant (in Vancouver) and, with Lester’s help, planted teams in Seattle and Portland.
(Part two, Next Issue, How Frank Patrick generalled the first big hockey war.)
HOW ROCKET RICHARD ALMOST BECAME A RANGER
There are plenty of reasons why author-historian George Grimm’s upcoming book, “Forgotten Blueshirts –The Frank Boucher Era Of The New York Rangers.” is a must-read.
Grimm is a meticulous researcher and — while delving into the Rangers’ past — made a startling discovery. That is, Maurice (The Rocket) Richard — often called The Babe Ruth Of Hockey — almost wound up skating for Lester Patrick’s New Yorkers.
Here’s how Grimm articulated the near-thing in his latest work:
Canadiens manager Tommy Gorman always wanted Rangers center Phil Watson. Gorman was willing to part with a young Maurice Richard in exchange for Watson.
Richard had made his debut with the Canadiens as a 21-year-old in 1942-43, scoring five goals with six assists. But his season ended after only 16 games when he broke his ankle.. He had previously fractured the other ankle and a wrist while playing for the Canadiens farm team in the Quebec Senior Hockey League and was thought too “brittle” to survive in the NHL
Patrick refused to make the deal and Richard soon became the famed Rocket and gained God-like stature among French-speaking Canadians. While at first glance it may look as if Patrick blew the opportunity to obtain one of the best players in league history, it should be noted that Richard had an impressive supporting cast in Montreal and was very comfortable in his native Quebec.
It’s doubtful that he would have blossomed if dropped into the Rangers ragtag lineup in New York, although he still would have been better than the majority of players on those wartime New York teams.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Robert Benchley, humorist, actor, author.