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Renney out, Tortorella in as Rangers coach

Tuesday, 02.24.2009 / 1:41 PM / News

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -John Tortorella made his presence felt right away during his first day as coach of the New York Rangers.

He went to work on the practice rink Tuesday morning, along with new assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld, as they worked to change the philosophy and tenor of a team that is struggling to hold onto a place in the playoffs.

"I just want them to relax a bit here," said Tortorella, hired Monday after Tom Renney was fired. "The team has been a little paralyzed through all the things going on with the club. We're going to work through it together.

"My biggest question is how much do we give them in a short period of time. There are 20-plus games left. I don't want to confuse them any more."

The laid-back Renney ran out of time in his quest to turn around the Rangers' sinking season. With only 21 games remaining and a playoff spot slipping away, general manager Glen Sather replaced Renney with the combustible Tortorella - a Stanley Cup-winning coach with the perfectly opposite temperament he sought.

"This reputation that I just kick the hell out of people, it takes on a life of its own," Tortorella said. "As a coach you'd better understand what your team is right now as far as how they feel.

"They need to get a little self confidence. We're going to allow them to try to work through that and try to find a way to get a win."

Renney was dismissed in the midst of the Rangers' freefall that has seen the team drop 10 of 12 (2-7-3) and slide into a fifth-place tie in the Eastern Conference. What became more troubling to Sather is New York's tenuous position - two points above the postseason cutoff.

The Rangers started 10-2-1 and were in first place for much of the first half of the season. So much promise has turned into desperation. New York will start a stretch of three games in four nights on Wednesday at Toronto.

"Torts is going to bring a lot more fire to his game, to his approach. That's not to be critical of Tom's approach. That's just Tom's personality," Sather said. "If you look at some of the players on our team and the past coaches they've had in their history, a lot of these guys have thrived under that kind of coaching."

In 6 1/2 seasons, Tortorella posted a mark of 239-222-36-38. His new task is to salvage the season for the Rangers (31-23-7).

Under Tortorella, everyone is held accountable whether you are a veteran on a long-term deal or a rookie playing for the NHL minimum.

"New coach, new guy, new style," said forward Scott Gomez, who saw several coaching changes while playing for New Jersey. "I've gone through this before. We've got to wake up. It's going to be different and we've got to adjust.

"One thing about him is you can't take anything personal. It's his way, and if you don't do it you don't play. I've grown up in a system like that."

Renney, a former coach of the Vancouver Canucks, was 164-121-42 with the Rangers in four-plus seasons and ranks fourth on the team's career wins and games lists.

Assistant coach Perry Pearn was also fired, but fellow assistant Mike Pelino was retained. However, Pelino will no longer be on the bench during games. Tortorella will handle power-play duties, while Schoenfeld works with the defensemen and the penalty-killing units.

In recent home games, fans had chanted for Renney's dismissal. Sather made the decision during Sunday night's 3-2 overtime home loss to Toronto.

"Everyone knows that their personalities are probably different, but the one thing in common with Tom, Torts and all of us is we want to win," captain Chris Drury said. "Whatever that takes in the next 21 games, we've got to try to find a way to do it."

Sather could have retained Tortorella after John Muckler was fired, but decided to hire Ron Low.

"In retrospect you can look back and say, 'You know, it would've been smart to keep him,' but that was 8 1/2 years ago," Sather said. "Things have a way of coming full circle."

Renney is the second Atlantic Division coach fired in a week, following Pittsburgh's dismissal of Michel Therrien last weekend - a move also made one day after a loss to Toronto. Renney is the sixth NHL coach let go this season, which includes all four coaches whose teams started the season in Europe.

After a two-season stint as Rangers director of player personnel, Renney became an assistant coach under Sather for the 2003-04 season. Sather relinquished his coaching duties Feb. 25, 2004, and turned the team over to Renney.

The defensive-minded Renney, who turns 54 on Sunday, went 5-15 to finish that season and took over full time in July 2004. He waited through the yearlong NHL lockout before officially claiming the permanent job.

In his first full season, Renney was a finalist for coach of the year honors after the Rangers went 44-26-12 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

New York ranks 29th of 30 teams in goals per game (2.33) and has scored two or fewer 14 times in 19 games - including their past 12 losses.

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