PHILADELPHIA– John Tortorella coaches the kind of Philadelphia Flyers team that can get their fans drinking.
Maybe the players too.
Tortorella is spirited enough to attempt to make his way into a visiting team’s dressing room and is willing enough to send his team a mission statement not through a heated diatribe but through a handwritten letter.
Tortorella also builds team chemistry the old-fashioned way — especially when that team is predicted to be among the worst in the NHL — by urging its players to get out there and have a good time. This is one of the reasons why Tortorella hates traveling to the next town in the night after a game. Tortorella wants to trade a silent bus ride or flight full of players with their heads buried in mobile devices for a team willing to spend a night on the town for a team meal, maybe even a bit of carousing.
“Maybe have a few beers together,” Tortorella said. “Maybe even a few beers too many. But come back the next day and play guilty. I think playing guilty is a big part of at least one pro sport that I’ve coached in for a long time. I think it’s a kind of lost art. We don’t come together as a group. It’s a team sport. I think you should go out together and maybe even get in some innocent trouble. Not bad trouble, harmless trouble along the way. I think it’s good for the camaraderie of the team.
The Flyers, who last won a Stanley Cup in 1975, will do everything they can to raise the bar for a franchise that once carved its way into the heart of the Philly sports scene and is now meaningless.
They turned to the 64-year-old Tortorella in hopes that his sophisticated, no-nonsense coaching style would lift the Flyers out of the NHL abyss, and into what, exactly? The playoffs? Tortorella is reasonable enough to dampen expectations for a season that starts Thursday at home against New Jersey without a true star, a real real prospect on the roster and without a solid reason for hope.
At least this season.
But as Tortorella scans the cityscape and sees the Phillies in the playoffs, the Eagles are undefeated, the Union are hailed as one of the best teams in MLS, and the championship-leaning 76ers — all playing to raucous, packed houses — are making their mark only made him more determined to add his team to the winners’ roster.
“I don’t want to slip under the radar. I want us to fill the building,” Tortorella said. “I want us to get to where the other teams are in this city. We have to ignore what people feel, what they say, what they think. That’s certainly not disrespectful to people. You have a right to feel what you feel. I just think we need to shut up and put our heads down and work and try to get back to the standard of being a Philadelphia Flyer. That’s the challenge. That’s what excites me about the opportunity.”
A salary of around $16 million over the next four seasons is a sweet incentive to return to the bench. But Tortorella could have retired or continued to enjoy his performance on the airwaves. His resume was as good as it gets in the NHL: a Stanley Cup winner with Tampa Bay in 2004; a 2012 conference final with the Rangers; the master motivator who lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets from perennial losers before being hired for four straight seasons in the playoffs.
“I know first hand that the guys in the dressing room are great guys. They’re all super excited to have Torts,” said Flyers forward Cam Atkinson, who played for Tortorella in Columbus. “At the same time nervous because they know what to expect from him. I keep telling them he’s a guy who will change the entire dynamic of this organization just like he did for Columbus.”
Tortorella’s resume is also riddled with warts, and he doesn’t shy away from his reputation. He’s lost his cool with the fans. He faces the media. He pushes his players – from fourth-liners to high-priced stars – to their breaking point, sometimes to the point of broken relationships. He was still an AHL coach in 1997 when he ran into a fan during a game.
Tortorella survived. And prospered. Tort won. He offered his greeting. He comes back for more.
“I tell my players, be who you are. I will always be the way I am,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “You know, I’ve certainly made mistakes along the way where perhaps my intensity overwhelms me. It’s hard for me right after the games when you’re down there in the fight to have to talk to (the media) 10 minutes after. It is what it is. I’m honest. I will be honest all the time. All I can do is be honest with the players, honest with you guys. That’s not going to change.”
Tortorella, 673-541-37-132, has made changes over nearly 20 seasons, such as opening up the locker rooms to cameras for a boot camp docu-series called The Standard. The Boston native has had to keep up with the times as players have evolved and old-school methods — he’s backed his stance on athletes protesting during the national anthem — have been weeded out of the league.
“I think where I’m trying to develop is, I think with today’s athlete, you have to let them speak,” Tortorella said. “You also have to let them participate in how we operate. I think that’s so important now as a coach, it’s communicating with them and allowing them to also take a stand, to talk to you. This is where I think I made a big change.
Tortorella still communicates with four letter words and let’s call it a genie responsible for YouTube video 6 Minutes of John Tortorella Angry Moments. But he did put down paper for a note about what it takes to be professional in the NHL, which was sealed in an envelope and delivered to each flyer’s mailbox. Best, he said, to avoid the countless emails, texts and repetitive speeches that often garble the message.
“I pushed hard to get him the job,” Atkinson said. “And then when he got the job, he’s really excited. And I’ve been on the phone, I’m on the loudspeaker, my wife is sitting next to me and she’s like, ‘I can’t wait to get this handwritten letter. ‘ He’s like, ‘Oh, it’s funny, Nat, because I’m actually writing it while we’re talking.'”
Tortorella inherited a team that went 25-46-11 and finished last in the Metropolitan Division. Top center Sean Couturier is out with another serious back injury. Defenseman Ryan Ellis’ career could be over. There is no team captain. Atkinson, last season’s team MVP, will miss the opener with an unspecified injury.
General manager Chuck Fletcher made only one big move offseason — hiring the coach nicknamed Torts.
“We think John Tortorella will help bring a mentality to our group where he’s harder to play against, improve our defensive structure and reduce our goals conceded,” Fletcher said. “Honestly, that’s where it starts.”
And maybe last call.
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https://6abc.com/philadelphia-flyers-2022-season-john-tortorella-opener-devils/12323315/ NHL Season Opener 2022: Philadelphia Flyers hope John Tortorella can lead them to Stanley Cup eventually