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Gary Roberts Wednesday - John Tortorella

This article has been submitted by Stu Wilkinson.

There’s been a rash of coaching hires in the NHL recently. The notoriously strict Ron Wilson has moved from San Jose to Toronto, Peter DeBoer has taken over for Jacques Martin in Florida, and some unlucky schmuck has become Brian Murray’s new puppet in Ottawa. Despite the fact that some of these new coaches are being brought on board by potential Stanley Cup contenders (let’s face it, the Leafs are only one playmaker away from making a run), none of them have won a Stanley Cup as a head coach in the NHL. John Tortorella, on the other hand, has won a championship in the NHL. He’s also recently joined the ranks of coaching free agents. Plus he looks like the Fonz. Heeeeeeey.

As head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning for six full seasons, Tortorella won a Cup and led his team to the playoffs four times, partly due to his great coaching and partly due to a phenomenon known as the ‘Bulin Wall. Tampa Bay was his first NHL head coaching job, but the Fonz worked as a head coach in the minors before he started dominating the professional ranks. He won the Calder Cup in 1996 with the Rochester Americans of the AHL before moving up to be an assistant with the Coyotes, but his first head coaching job actually came way back in the 1980s with the Virginia Lancers, one of the most storied hockey franchises in that great hockey hotbed known as Tommy Jefferson’s home base.

True story: Tortorella actually played for the Lancers in the 1985-86 season and then coached them in 1986-87, which might be the closest thing we’ll have to a player-coach in professional sports until the Bengals give Chad Johnson an inflatable headset and the title of Offensive Magic Maker. You have to like a guy who ends his playing career with 60 penalty minutes in five playoff games (thanks, and is immediately handed a head coaching job with team he gooned it up for. He’s like a poor man’s Reggie Dunlop!

Sure, his on-ice numbers during his playing career certainly indicate that Tortorella has a “scrappy” personality, but his off-ice antics during his tenure with the Lightning tell the real story – he’s absolutely insane. After the Lightning canned him, TSN aired a top ten list of John Tortorella moments, which is always a sign of a rock solid coach. Which moments made the cut? Tortorella ripping on John Grahame, Tortorella ripping on Ken Hitchcock, and Tortorella famously ripping on a very unlucky reporter and dropping a Hard F live on the CBC. The Fonz has always provided memorable moments at his news conferences, a trait that is way too unique for NHL coaches.

Tortorellla’s entertaining relationship with the media, along with the fact that he’s won a Stanley Cup, means he’ll definitely be a head coach in the NHL again. He’s already slated to be behind the bench for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics (they’ll be sneaky good even if Chris Chelios doesn’t make the team) and he should be a on a lot of short lists for new job openings in the pros. Although I really wanted him to end up with the Leafs, I’d be satisfied with Tortorella ending up on the Kings of Los Angeles or the Flames of Calgary – once Iron Mike gets canned, of course. The moral of the story: John Tortorella needs to be in the NHL, and I’m willing to discard the great Mike Keenan to get him there.

Inside the Numbers
2 appearances on TSN’s top ten playoff sound bites list
1 more Stanley Cup than anyone considered for the Leafs coaching vacancy
239 career wins in the NHL
1 Jack Adams Award for best coach in the NHL
6th place finish in the 2008 World Championships with Team USA

This article has been submitted by Stu Wilkinson.

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