GLENDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix’s Raffi Torres could only watch as Chicago’s Marian Hossa turned the Coyotes’ home opener in the Blackhawks’ favor with a give-and-go goal in the second period Sunday night at Jobing.com Arena.
Maybe you believe that was karma. Nine months earlier, Torres may have turned a first-round playoff series in the Coyotes’ favor when he leveled Hossa with an open-ice hit that drew a 25-game suspension (later reduced to 21 games) for head-hunting.
Some critics argued that Torres should have had to sit out until Hossa returned from a severe concussion that would have sidelined him for the start of this season. The lockout took care of that logistic, pushing the season’s start date back and allowing Hossa to heal while also pushing back Torres’ return date to Feb. 2 against Dallas.
After being introduced during the Coyotes’ unveiling of the Pacific Division title banner at Jobing.com Arena, Torres went back to the locker room while Hossa went back to work, scoring two goals in Chicago’s 6-4 win to give him four goals in his first two games and his team a 2-0 start.
“You can’t expect two goals every night, but it’s nice to have a good start and just build on that,” Hossa said.
Hossa said Sunday that it took him nearly seven months to feel right after he was carried off the United Center ice on a stretcher following Torres’ hit.
“I felt good off the ice,” he said. “I was biking and doing strength training full speed, but as soon as I came on the ice, it was a little different. The brain had to adjust to so many movements and so fast a pace. I wasn’t myself, and it took longer than I thought.”
Hossa insisted Sunday’s game didn’t carry extra meaning, but his teammates thought otherwise.
“This was a special night for him,” forward Dave Bolland said. “He’s playing the same Hossa game he’s always played. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
Torres knows he will be a marked man when he finally gets on the ice against the Blackhawks on Feb. 7 in Glendale.
“I’m sure there are some guys over there that are going to take my head off when I get back out there, but it’s just part of the game,” he said.
Over the past couple of months, he has been working to make sure that is not a part of his game.
“There’s such a fine line right now with the way the game has changed. I think I’m a big example of what not to do out there,” said Torres, whose punishment in April marked the third time in a 13-month span that he had been suspended. “It’s going to be tough, but I feel like I’ve worked on the right things, looked at enough video so maybe I can be a more effective player. I still feel like I have to have the mindset to finish checks, but I’m not going to be running around looking for them.”
There will be plenty more video before Coyotes coach Dave Tippett is through with Torres. Tippett has crafted what sounds like an entire class to drive home an important point.
“We want him to be a very effective player for us and a very hard player for us, but not the reckless player that has been suspended,” Tippett said. “He’s got to play hard. That’s who he is, but he can play hard in the way he goes after the puck instead of the way he goes after the man. You look at all those hits he’s had, they’re body checks as opposed to getting the puck. One of the things we talked about is having a little more puck sense.”
Tippett believes Torres can be an effective winger in the corners because of his stout build, his low center of gravity and his tenacity.
“You watch some of the puck battles on the walls,” Tippett said. “In a perfect example, he’d root around, find a puck in the corner, (get it) to the point, and he goes hard to the net and the puck comes there.
“He’s a hard guy to defend. For me, that’s not about hitting anybody. That’s about digging in there and then getting to the front of the net to create an opportunity. That’s hard, hard hockey without hitting anybody.”
Tippett is certain this last punishment has convinced Torres that he has to change his game.
“Twenty games and how many hundreds of thousands of dollars and missing a whole playoff run coupled with missing (a bunch of) the season this year?” Tippett asked rhetorically. “He’s had a lot of time to think about it. Put it that way.”
Torres has also had plenty of time to digest the bile being spewed from all corners of the hockey world, particularly from Chicago.
“It was tough at first, and my track record doesn’t exactly help me,” he said. “The people that are closest to me, my family and my friends back home, they know how I am. But it was tougher on my mom and dad because they’re talking about your boy.
“They didn’t take that stuff too well, but I told them, ‘Just remember the kind of kid you raised. He’s married, he’s got a couple of kids and everything is good at home.’ It’s just what I do; it’s not who I am.”
Torres hasn’t spoken with Hossa since Torres called him a couple days after the hit. The two did not speak Sunday, but Hossa insists there are “no hard feelings,” and Torres wasn’t shy about his own feelings while watching Hossa skate again.
“It was nice to see him bounce back and have a good game,” Torres said. “Again, my intention was never to go out there and knock Hossa out of the series. That’s the problem with people who don’t know the game as well. It happens so fast. Right after the hit, I was like, ‘What just happened?’
“But I don’t worry about those things anymore. It’s in the past, and all I can do is move forward. But it’s good to see him back out there. It really is.”