August 24, 2019
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Former UMaine player drives Blue Jackets into showdown with Bruins

Darryl Dyck | The Canadian Press via AP
Darryl Dyck | The Canadian Press via AP
Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, back, pats Adam McQuaid, right, on the back as he sits on the bench during the second period against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Tortorella was being battered on social media a month or so ago by doubters who thought his act had gotten stale in Columbus.

The 60-year-old Tortorella, the argument went, was having trouble getting his message across to a team that had loaded up with new talent at the trade deadline but was still stuck in the mud.

Then the Blue Jackets caught fire down the stretch. They won seven of their last eight games to reach the playoffs, swept the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and are shipping up to Boston — the city that produced the fiery coach — to start the next series on Thursday night.

Suddenly Tortorella, a former University of Maine player, is a genius and master motivator again to the chat room crowd, and strangers are waiting outside the gate at his house to tell him how much he means to the city.

Tortorella doesn’t care what the keyboard warriors think one way or another or what the people in the stands think. He would rather spend time around homeless animals — he and wife Christine are passionate about dog rescue — than interact with most people. He doesn’t give a spit about social media and has no idea what an emoji is.

“If I ever have to worry about what people think of me, one way or another, that’s a crappy way to live for a coach,” he said. “So I don’t pay much attention.”

He is the same as he ever was.

Tortorella played hockey at UMaine from 1978-1981 after transferring from Salem State College. A forward, he ranks sixth in career penalty minutes with 218.

He may have mellowed in subtle ways over 17 years as an NHL head coach, toned down some of the yelling or loosened up on the rigid discipline, but not that much. He’s still volatile, blunt and demands maximum, body-sacrificing effort. In an interview earlier this season he lamented that players are just too friendly to one another in today’s game.

Not enough hate.

Tortorella’s methods of motivating players take many forms, and anyone who has followed his career or watched him in YouTube videos knows that he’s an old-school shouter .

The latest of his greatest hits came before Game 1 when a camera was recording in the dressing room before his team went out against the top-seeded Lightning.

Tortorella came forth with an impassioned, f-bomb-packed rager that peeled the paint off the walls. A 26-second segment tweeted out by the local Blue Jackets TV affiliate (minus the profanities) quickly became social-media gold. The gist was that Columbus could beat the better team with the proper effort.

“I’ve seen him like that before,” 20-year-old center Pierre Luc-Dubois said, “but it was a little extra.”

The Blue Jackets were down 3-0 in the first period before rallying to an improbable 4-3 win to set up a stunning four-game sweep of the Lightning .

“I wish the camera was never in there, first of all,” Tortorella said. “I said what I thought, and I still believe that. It’s such a mindset that you have to have collectively, not worry about how you match up on paper. If we’re going to keep proceeding here and be competitive and maybe win, the mindset and belief have to be that strong.”

Columbus captain Nick Foligno said there is always a method to Tortorella’s mind games.

“I think Torts really enjoys the behavioral side of coaching, trying to get the most out of his athletes mentally,” Foligno said. “I think he knows physically you’re already going to prepare and do the things necessary, but I think for the most part it’s, ‘How can I push the buttons to get more out of you than you ever thought possible?’ And I think that’s what he’s done with this group.”

On Wednesday, Tortorella wasn’t in the mood to talk about Boston, which beat Columbus two out of three games in the last month of the season.

“Yeah, guys, I’m not going to spend my time talking about the Bruins and all that stuff there,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, I can tell you that. We’re just going to concentrate on our team.”

 



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