John Tortorella never shies away from speaking his mind, especially when it involves one of his fellow coaches.
Heading into Wednesday night's contest versus the Flyers, the struggling Maple Leafs were getting torched by local fans and media, with many calling Sheldon Keefe’s job security into question. But, in Tortorella’s mind, the blame shouldn’t fall on the head coach. While speaking to reporters pre-game, the Flyers bench boss adamantly defended Keefe for the job he's done in Toronto so far.
"You guys don't know anything. See, I coach against Sheldon. I think coaches know other coaches,” Tortorella said. “You guys don’t what he's done for that team. I’ve watched from afar. I’ve coached him. We’ve had conversations as a young coach in this league.
“You guys chuck darts at him because you want some results. I guess, it is, it’s always the coach that gets the darts chucked at him. I know in watching him and coaching against him, I think he's a terrific coach. I hope he jams it to you all, quite honestly. Not tonight. But I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
Sadly for Torts, Keefe did end up jamming it to the media against his Flyers, as Toronto captured a much-needed 5-2 victory on home ice.
This isn’t the first time Tortorella has stood up for his colleague, either, as he came to Keefe’s defence following a hard-fought series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs during the 2020 playoffs.
— JayOnSC (@JayOnSC) August 11, 2020
Tortorella and Keefe have known each other for several years, as Torts coached the Maple Leafs’ bench boss during his three NHL seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2000-03. The 42-year-old learned valuable lessons back then, which helped him mold his own coaching style.
The two also spoke briefly after Toronto named Keefe as Mike Babcock’s replacement in November 2019. After receiving his well-deserved promotion, Keefe heard from his old coach via text, congratulating him on the news.
Now, three years later, the Maple Leafs — who sit tied for third in the Atlantic Division 11 games into the season — are hopeful they can overcome another slow start, and Wednesday’s outcome is certainly a step in the right direction.
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