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Briere, Knuble know Tortorella well

Sunday, 03.15.2009 / 1:00 AM / NHL on NBC Spotlight

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The public image of John Tortorella is far from warm and fuzzy. But he's not exactly an overbearing tyrant despised by anyone who has to play for him.

"He was closer to the guys," Danny Briere told NHL.com. "He was more friendly with some of the players.

"He was a fun guy to be around."

Close to the guys? Fun to be around? Are we talking about the same John Tortorella? The fiery, intense, brutally honest coach who has no problem shredding his players before, during and after games?

Briere certainly was. The Flyers' center spent his first two NHL seasons with (1997-99) in Phoenix, where Tortorella was an assistant to coach Jim Schoenfeld (Tortorella's current assistant with the Rangers). Briere said it didn't take long for him to realize Tortorella had a bright future as an NHL coach.

"You can tell he had the intensity," said Briere. "You could tell system-wise he was very knowledgeable."

He'll bring that intensity and knowledge to Sunday's NHL on NBC Game of the Week (12:30 p.m. ET) when the Rangers host the Flyers.

Briere isn't the only Philadelphia player with more than a passing knowledge of Tortorella. Mike Knuble and Tortorella were together with the Rangers during the 1999-2000 season -- Tortorella was an assistant to coach John Muckler, while Knuble played 59 games in New York before being traded to Boston.

Like Briere, Knuble saw Tortorella's passion and intellect first-hand during their time together.

"He's a smart guy," Knuble told NHL.com. "He's known for being passionate and maybe abrasive and times, but he knows the game well. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

No one can look at Tortorella's resume and doubt that. In six seasons as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he made the playoffs four times and won the 2004 Stanley Cup. He also won the 2004 Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year.

He also won the 1996 Calder Cup in the first of his two seasons with the AHL Rochester Americans.

Tortorella's tenure in Tampa Bay was marred by clashes with players, most notably with star center Vincent Lecavalier, but Lecavalier admits all Tortorella's prodding helped him become a better player and the team win a championship.

"He's very passionate about the game," said Knuble. "He wants to do whatever it takes to win. He's not scared to ruffle feathers along the way. He likes to keep it uncomfortable. He feels that's the best way to get the most out of his players."

Knuble also was with Tortorella when he was an assistant coach to Peter Laviolette for the U.S. team at the 2005 World Championship. Had Tortorella changed at all from their first time together?

"He realized he likes to be the head guy," Knuble said. "He definitely wanted his hands on everything. As an assistant coach, at times he had to bite his lip if he wanted to say something or do something regarding the team or our systems or just something to say to the players. He had to take a secondary role and I don't think that fit him very much."

"He's a smart guy. He's known for being passionate and maybe abrasive at times, but he knows the game well. I don't think there's any doubt about that."
-- Mike Knuble on John Tortorella

Tortorella has a firm grip on the Rangers now. Since taking over Feb. 23, the Rangers are 4-2-1, but their offense, which had been dormant for most of the season, finally has come to the fore. They've scored one goal or fewer in three of the games, but they've scored four or more three times. The Rangers entered Thursday's game last in the League in goals (158) and goals per game (2.36), and 27th in power play (14.4 percent), but with Tortorella preaching an up-tempo attack and his "safe is death" mantra, the Rangers will have a different look than the last time they played the Flyers.

There also are a few new faces in the dressing room since the Flyers took a 5-2 decision Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers claimed Sean Avery on waivers from the Dallas Stars, and on trade-deadline day acquired center Nik Antropov from the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Derek Morris from the Phoenix Coyotes.

"It'll be interesting because we do play them four more times," Knuble said. "He's coming right into the middle of our series with them. We're going to see them plenty down the line here. I think our last game up there, I don't think they had their best showing. We expect more out of them. They've added him, they've added Sean Avery. They changed the systems so I know they're trying to be a more aggressive team. I imagine we will see a much different team."

But it won't be too much of a surprise to a pair of Flyers.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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