Rangers coach one brilliant blusterer
The John Tortorella Show is Broadway’s newest one-man performance, a thrilling combination of drama, action and, according to a rival, comedy.
The New York Rangers head coach has taken a team more adept at blocking pucks than scoring with them to within two wins of a Stanley Cup Final berth.
Depending on the day, the fiery coach either clams up as he’s peppered by the media, or uses the press to send a message.
That is, when he’s not busy screaming apparent obscenities at New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer across their respective benches, as he did in Monday’s Game 4 loss to the Devils.
Whatever the method to his madness is, it’s working.
Tortorella, a Jack Adams Award finalist for the NHL’s best bench boss, won a Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning by adopting the phrase “safe is death,” referring to the team’s explosive offense.
But that’s not the makeup of this team, which has scored more than three goals only once this postseason.
“In Tampa, he had Martin St. Louis, the MVP that year, Vincent Lecavalier at the prime of his career and Brad Richards, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy,” CBC “Hockey Night in Canada” reporter Elliotte Friedman said.
“If you look at this team ... he has a bunch of guys who compete hard and try hard, but they don’t have a lot of game-breaking talents.”
He’s not afraid to bench anyone, including Marian Gaborik, who incurred Tortorella’s wrath in Game 2 of the series against New Jersey.
Just don’t try to ask why. The man sometimes called “Torts” became famous for his curt responses at extremely brief postgame press conferences, even telling one reporter to “stop coaching.”
Yet there he was, openly responding to DeBoer’s criticisms through the press.
“If we’re going to start discussing officials with the media, I have a long list here," Tortorella said before Game 4, ripping the Devils for using illegal picks.
DeBoer called the comments “comical.”
“[New York] is the tabloid capital of North America,” Friedman said. “He’s controlling the message, or at least trying to. He’s not going to get burned unless it’s something he wants out there.”
That’s helped take the heat off a team forced to play seven games in both of its previous playoff series, against Ottawa and Washington — the Rangers and Devils are tied 2-2 heading into Wednesday's Game 5 in New York.
According to Tortorella’s college coach, he wasn’t accustomed to hogging the spotlight.
“When he played for me, he was really as quiet as can be,” former University of Maine head coach Jack Semler told The Daily. “His play was his voice.”
Semler remembered a player who had to be told by an assistant coach not to go into corners looking like he was “trying to kill a guy every time,” and who spent most of his time screening goalies in front of the net.
In other words, a role player. Now, he’s doing the same from behind the bench, filling a role that’s one part media-distracting mastermind and two parts blustery enforcer.
“I think he knows exactly what he’s doing,” Friedman said. “Even if he won’t tell us all the time what it is.”