Canucks stand by coach Tortorella’s outburst
Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella and forward Ryan Kesler (17) talk to the Calgary Flames defenseman Shane O'Brien (55) and forward Lance Bouma (17) and Calgary Flames forward Jiri Hudler (24) during the first period at Rogers Arena, Jan 18, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia. (Photo: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
From the intermittent silence to a lesser level of intensity, the absence of Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella was rather noticeable at Monday's practice.
While his team worked on the power play and the usual drills at Rogers Arena led by assistants Mike Sullivan and Glen Gulutzan, the Vancouver bench boss was in New York answering for his part in Saturday's antics.
By now, the clip of the fiery Tortorella storming the Calgary Flames' visitors hallway on Saturday has made its rounds on the Internet, leading sports highlight packages and remaining the talk of the town.
Mount Torts finally erupted, and oh was it entertaining — if not somewhat embarrassing.
But his players don't see it that way. Instead, the intrusion into enemy territory during the midst of a heated battle seemed more like a show of chivalry — a general sticking up for his troops, a leader supporting his people. And based on their comments Monday, his players are right there returning the favour for him.
"I'm sure he regrets what he did, maybe he doesn't, but we're behind our coach 100%," Zack Kassian said. "We love John.
"He's changing the culture of this team and that's exactly what we wanted."
But there will be consequences. For now, the question isn't whether or not Tortorella will get suspended, but for how long?
His actions crossed a line, and broke rule 46.8 by being "involved in an altercation with an opposing player, coach or other non-playing club personnel on or off the ice." This thus explains his in-person meeting with NHL executive vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell.
With Tortorella away, Sullivan took to the podium after practice Monday, but held back when commenting on Hallwaygate.
"Torts can be the guy that can talk about what happened there," said Sullivan, who was also in the midst of the fracas but hasn't heard from the league regarding disciplinary repercussions. "From my standpoint, it was making sure that Torts was going to be OK.
"His passion and energy is what has allowed him to have this success that he's had in this league."
The Canucks and Flames also engaged in a line brawl to open the game, resulting in the ejection of eight players. The stunning turn of events — and 178 combined penalty minutes in the first period — was the beginning of a night that saw Vancouver come from behind to win 3-2 in a shootout — their first victory in four games.
Even that opening two seconds drew plenty of analysis and criticism — mostly thrown at Calgary head coach Bob Hartley's way for putting out his goons for the opening lineup, while some more were directed at Tortorella as well.
Sullivan, though, came to his head coach's defence.
"Torts was trying to protect our players and our team," he said. "I was upset, as was Torts. We don't like to see our players be put in harm’s way and the game is a violent game as it is, and I don't think as coaches we need to manufacture it."
But while the fallout of that game continued two days later, the Canucks must now turn their focus to building on an important two points. The Edmonton Oilers play hosts Tuesday in a showdown that pits Vancouver against the lowliest squad in the Western Conference — and it seems either Sullivan or Gulutzan will be in charge behind the bench.
With 31 games left in the regular season, it's another dud season for the Oilers. For Vancouver, it's about gaining ground on the other Pacific Division foes.
"It's always a tough game against them," Alex Burrows said of Edmonton. "We say if you let them play and have some space and some room to make some plays, they are going to make you pay.
"We got to make sure we play our game."
That is, with or without John Tortorella.