If there was ever an NHL coach who wasn’t much for mincing words, it’s John Tortorella. Let’s face it; he’s a walking soundbite waiting to happen.
During his stints with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, he was never afraid to let reporters know how he really felt about a subject. Nine times out of 10, those feelings were a bit negative. And by “a bit” I mean “Okay, we get it, you’re mad.”
A prime example: when asked why Rangers forward Carl Hagelin wasn’t playing on the power play during last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Bruins, Tortorella simply said “because he stinks.” This statement surely must have made Hagelin feel great about himself.
However, is he taking a different route now in his new gig as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks?
During an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Tortorella was asked about his starting goalie, Roberto Luongo, a man who’s been through some mental torment in the last few years.
He took his team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, only to get shellacked by the Bruins. Then, he was odd man out in the Corey Schneider saga, which involved getting benched, being brought back to start, but then getting benched again. He was on the verge of being traded at the deadline last season, but his contract was way too much for any team to pick up.
Schneider was eventually dealt to the New Jersey Devils, and now Luongo is starting again.
I wouldn’t blame you if you went through mental struggles just reading that. Be that as it may, Tortorella, in speaking with Luongo, feels pretty good about where his netminder is mentally.
“I’ll tell you, from talking with him he has told me he is working very hard as far as conditioning and getting ready for this season. He knows there is a lot of talk and probably a lot of questions coming his way,” the coach said. “I think he’s prepared for that and the bottom line is he told me ‘I just want to play.”
“You don’t have to be happy about a lot of different things. You can be really happy about this, unhappy about that, as long as you are ready to play. I think he gets that. So I am really excited about where he is mentally.”
This is surprising from two angles. One: who knew an evaluation of Luongo’s state of mind could ever come out that positively? This is a player who said he “mentally divorced” the Canucks during the up-and-down ordeal with Schneider. Two: Tortorella knows what a compliment is? Seriously? And he dished it to Luongo?
Clearly, he must know that he’s got a goalie in net that is still recovering from a few nightmare years which would make anyone a head-case. And even though Tortorella’s typical routine is tough love, this may not be the time or place.
We’ll see soon enough if the Vancouver coach can maintain this “atta boy” schtick with Luongo all year. One or two funks could bring back the Tortorella fury that players and reporters know all about.