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The John Tortorella origin story, including ground balls to the face

Greg Wyshynski
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Think about the most cynical cynic in your life, or the curmudgeonliest curmudgeon. What percentage of their personality is an act? What percentage is authentic? Where does this worldview develop?

When you watch New York Rangers Coach John Tortorella and his natural comportment — short, intimidating answers with the media, screaming down the bench at players or opposing coaches — you can't help but wonder what influenced it. Did Tortorella emerge from the womb complaining about the doctors' treatment, sneering at an orderly who looked like Larry Brooks?

Craig Wolff of the Star-Ledger attempted to answer this with an origin story on John Tortorella that's rather terrific — speaking with his father, his former coaches and teammates back in high school and college.

On authenticity, Wolfe writes:

Posturing is not his thing, old coaches, friends, family and former teammates say. The fiery coach with darts for eyes, especially on display in the storm of the Stanley Cup playoff season in news conferences and behind the bench, is not contrived, they say.

But it was Tortorella's behavior in baseball and hockey as a young athlete that really gives you a sense of how demanding he is as an NHL coach.

From the Star-Ledger, speaking with Brent Clark, Concord-Carlisle High School baseball coach, for whom Tortorella was a captain:

"If he couldn't reach a ground ball, if it meant getting an out, he blocked ground balls with his face," said Brent Clark, the school's baseball coach back then. "This was not a once-in-a-while occurrence."

Clark said he came to appreciate Tortorella's intolerance for teammates whom, he thought, had not given a full effort, even if it meant fists flying in the locker room, often between him and his brother, Jim. "Some of the kids who played with John were afraid of him," Clark said. "He was into sending a message."

Play by play man Gary Thorne called University of Maine games when Tortorella was there, and told the Ledger:

"He played in the net with the goaltender," Thorne said. "He was black and blue after every game, but he would not be moved."

After practices were over, Thorne said, Tortorella ritually did 50 extra pushups, 25 sprints and took 25 shots from the blue line, then skated to the bench completely spent. "He went further than his body could take, throw up, then leave," Thorne said.

Check out the full story from Wolfe, including an anecdote about Tortorella wearing his baseball uniform under his graduation gown in high school. For all the digital ink spilled about Torts this postseason, this is a nice curveball.

Game 6 between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers is Friday night, and it's a defining moment for Tortorella's tenure in New York. His opponent, Peter DeBoer, has outmaneuvered him in this series. His team has been called fatigued, because of their style of play and Tortorella's own demanding nature.

After falling behind 3-0, the Rangers gave Tortorella their best effort of the series. Maybe desperation brings out their best, as it did in the previous two rounds.

It's time for the Rangers to do whatever it takes. And there's no better coach than the black-and-blue kid who used to block ground balls with his face to get it out of them.

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