"There are always extraneous things that can affect you one way or another in a playoff series and it's up to the athlete to have the mental discipline to block them out. This is just another one of those."
-- Jim Schoenfeld
Tortorella was suspended by the NHL Saturday night for an incident that occurred 6:33 into the third period of Game 5 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on Friday night at Verizon Center. The League suspended Tortorella for one game for squirting a fan with water and throwing a water bottle that struck a fan.
Tortorella is allowed to watch the game inside Madison Square Garden, but he had to leave the Rangers' dressing room at noon ET, exactly two hours before the opening faceoff. He can have no contact of any kind with the team until after the game.
Schoenfeld, the Rangers' assistant general manager who took over as interim assistant coach when Tortorella was hired on Feb. 23, said Tortorella did not talk with the players.
"(Tortorella) obviously feels bad," Schoenfeld said in his very relaxed, 12-minute press conference that started at noon Sunday. "He feels he presented a distraction that the team could do without, but I think it should be said that the passion, the fire and the leadership that Tortorella has brought to the team - he took a team that was dead in the water when he arrived, and without the work of John Tortorella, this incident wouldn't have happened because we wouldn't have made the playoffs. That's a fact.
“When you're a fiery guy, there is that fine line, whether you're a player, a coach or in any line of work, but I believe in my heart that without that fire and without that passion and the direction he placed for the team, the team would not have made the playoffs this year. His hurt is that he has created a distraction for the players. He still believes they're going to get the job done."
League rules are clear that regardless of the circumstances or provocation, no team personnel can have physical contact with fans.
"While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot - and will not - tolerate any physical contact with fans," NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said. "We do not take this action lightly. It is the result of an entire day of investigation and evaluation that included the retrieval and review of videotape of the incident and discussions with Mr. Tortorella, other Rangers' bench personnel and a number of other people, including the security personnel at the Verizon Center."
Schoenfeld, who is the Rangers' only on-bench assistant, confirmed Hartford Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander and assistant J.J. Daigneault will be working the Rangers' bench with him Sunday. The Wolf Pack were knocked out of the AHL playoffs Saturday night.
Gernander is going to handle the forwards and Daigneault will handle the defensemen. Schoenfeld normally works with the defensemen and Tortorella handles the forwards.
"They do a terrific job developing players and a number of players on our team have played for Kenny and J.J.," Schoenfeld said. "It will be more on my direction as to reminders that we want the players to think about. I'm not going to throw matchups at (Gernander and Daigneault). That would be unfair. It's their first kick at our team and certainly their first kick at the opponent."
Schoenfeld said nothing in the Rangers' game plan will change without Tortorella present on the bench. He said focus shouldn't be a problem for the players due to "the ramifications of the game."
If the Rangers win Sunday, they advance to play Boston in the Conference Semifinal.
"There are always extraneous things that can affect you one way or another in a playoff series and it's up to the athlete to have the mental discipline to block them out," Schoenfeld said. "This is just another one of those."
Schoenfeld previously coached the New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes, compiling a 256-246-78 record. He also coached the Wolf Pack from 2005-07 before being named assistant GM. Gernander took over him.
Schoenfeld is remembered for an incident with recently retired referee Don Koharski while he was coaching the Devils in the 1988 playoffs. He was accused of pushing Koharski and wound up serving a one-game suspension.
"The water really shouldn't be muddied about something that happened over 20 years ago," Schoenfeld said. "It's a little bit too long in the past and really doesn't have anything to do with what should be the focus and that's the 40 guys that are playing (Sunday). Yeah, it's a tad ironic, I'll give you that."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org