It doesn’t take much to rile up John Tortorella. An ill-timed question at a press conference. A questionable call by an official. Taunting from a fan behind the bench. Being Larry Brooks.
On Saturday night, the world was reacquainted with two additional triggers for Torts, during the Vancouver Canucks’ shootout win over the Calgary Flames: Bob Hartley, and coaches using his own tactics against him.
Hartley sent out his fourth line against the Canucks to start the game. Tortorella, concerned his skill players would be jumped should he send them out, opted to line up his own fourth line, with defenseman Kevin Bieksa taking the opening faceoff. (Moving a defenseman up to take the draw in this situation is a surefire way to spark a brawl, and as you'll see, something Tortorella has done before.)
The result was a line brawl between the teams, with Tortorella chasing Hartley and the Flames coaches back to their dressing room between periods.
It’s not the first time he and Hartley had a discussion off the ice.
In Oct. 2005, Tortorella was coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning and Hartley was the coach of the Atlanta Thrashers. Eric Boulton of the Thrashers took out Paul Ranger, Tortorella’s defenseman, with a cheap shot with just 2:30 left in a blowout game in favor of Tampa.
Tortorella ripped Boulton after the incident, telling the AP after the game: "The ... guy should be playing in the ... East Coast Hockey League, but instead he takes out a ... NHLer.”
Hartley entered Tortorella’s office after the game, the assumption being it was to apologize. But that didn’t change the fact that he had Boulton, who at that time had the reputation as a headhunter, on the ice in a 6-0 game late in the third.
Yes, Boulton, the headhunter on a Hartley team, taking out a Tortorella defenseman.
Speaking of Boulton …
On Dec. 20, 2011, coach John Tortorella’s New York Rangers visited their rivals the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark for the first time that season. It was a key division game, and one that would set the tone for the rest of their season series.
The Rangers, as the road team, would determine the personnel on the opening faceoff. In their previous two road games, New York started No. 1 center Brad Richards’ line for the opening draw.
In this game, Tortorella opted for a different look: Fourth liners Mike Rupp, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust.
Devils Coach Pete DeBoer responded in kind: Rather than throwing Zach Parise to the lions, like Randy Carlyle did when he lined Phil Kessel up next to John Scott this season, DeBoer skated out Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton and Tim Sestito.
The result? Comedic mayhem:
What might have been a line brawl to begin the game was instead Rupp vs. Janssen. David Clarkson and Brandon Dubinsky would have another fight 1:44 later. Whatever spark Tortorella was searching for, it appeared to work: The Rangers won the game, 4-1.
Fast forward three months, and the Rangers and Devils met again at Madison Square Garden. This time it was DeBoer that sent out the goons: Eric Boulton, Ryan Carter and Cam Janssen. Tortorella was forced to send out Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky and Mike Rupp. Dubinsky was recovering from sinus damage, so defenseman Stu Bickel took the opening draw, knowing what was bound to happen:
Tortorella loudly scolded DeBoer from the Rangers’ bench, pointing and hurling F-bombs at the opposing coach … for doing exactly what he had done in Jersey months earlier.
“I guess in John’s world you can come into our building and start your tough guys, but we can’t do the same in here,” DeBoer said. “He’s either got short-term memory loss or he’s a hypocrite. So it’s one of the other.”
Said Janssen, via Fire & Ice: “If they didn’t want to do it and didn’t think it was necessary, then they wouldn’t have done it. It takes two guys to fight and we both agreed upon and we both obviously thought it was necessary and that’s why we did it."
Tortorella’s response when asked about the line brawl: It was “none of my business” who the Devils started in the game.
When asked about the Canucks/Flames line brawl on Saturday night, Tortorella said:
"I thought my players responded tremendously," said Tortorella. "Listen - it shouldn't be in the game, that stuff. I don't want it in the game. But I have to protect my team, too. So all the pundits, all the people pissing and moaning, they don't have a clue what a locker-room's about. They don't understand the whole circumstance involved in that type of situation."
But Tortorella does. Because he’s used the tactic himself, and he’s been the victim of it.
When he’s dishing out the medicine, it’s part of the game. When he’s tasting it, it shouldn’t be in the game.
And when he’s tasting it courtesy of a coach he has little respect for, it makes him completely snap.