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Players see different side of Tortorella than media

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Players see different side of Tortorella than media
Fans may know him better for some well-chronicled exchanges with the media, but Rangers players say there's a much different side to coach John Tortorella when he's not in front of the microphones.
John Tortorella considered the question about Marian Gaborik's lack of production for about a half-second before responding the same way he always does in that situation.

"I'm not going to dissect anybody's individual game here," Tortorella said tersely. "I like you, but I'm not going to give you any information."

Perhaps fearful of revealing a warm, sensitive side to the gathered media, he qualified his statement about liking reporters.

"Some of you I do," he said. "Some of you … I can't stomach you."

Tortorella's run-ins with media have become so legendary that TSN produced a top-10 list of the encounters. The New York Rangers' coach can be hostile, volatile and downright rude at times, because winning favor with the media is at the bottom of his list of things he'd like to accomplish.

Even paying customers got a taste of Tortorella during a playoff game at Verizon Center during the 2009 playoffs when he squirted water from a bottle over the glass and onto a fan behind the bench. He even grabbed a stick before being restrained. He was suspended for the ensuing Game 6 because of those actions.

"Sometimes he's pretty relaxed and calm. Sometimes he can be pretty intense. It's the same with me and a lot of other players. With me, I'm pretty intense when it comes to the game and preparations, and he likes to challenge players and I like that." -- Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on coach John Tororella

But like any good coach, all that matters to him is his team and getting his players to perform at their best -- something he's accomplished with the 2010-11 Rangers, who have overcome the handicaps of youth and a litany of injuries that have sidelined nearly every key player at some point to make the postseason.

Tortorella has molded the Rangers into his likeness -- a successful team that plays a hard, grinding style that makes up for what it lacks in finesse with intensity in spades. He may come across as gruff and tough in front of the media, but behind closed doors with his players, well …

"He's not always the stone-face you see sometimes," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said before searching for another example of his coach's softer side. "You hear him laugh once in a while.

"Sometimes he's pretty relaxed and calm. Sometimes he can be pretty intense. It's the same with me and a lot of other players. With me, I'm pretty intense when it comes to the game and preparations, and he likes to challenge players and I like that."

Vinny Prospal has played seven seasons under Tortorella, five with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the past two with the Rangers. They've had their share of ups and downs together, the ups three trips to the postseason and the downs an incident where Prospal scored two goals in a game in February 2008, then directed a shove-it comment toward his coach.

Prospal was upset about being taken off a line with Vincent Lecavalier and a reduction in ice time, decisions obviously made by Tortorella. But Prospal says that style is what makes Tortorella a successful coach and what makes him a better player.

"He's pretty intense," Prospal told NHL.com. "He pushes his players because he knows he can get a lot more out of them. He's not a sweet talker or anything like that. He gives you the truth, and he pushes his players to the limit.

"On the other hand, nobody would believe the kind of person he is off the ice when the hockey's all over and there's a summertime. You guys make the assumption with the way he reacts on the bench or stuff like that, but off the ice or outside the rink, he's a totally different person."

It's a side Tortorella rarely shows in front of the media, but why should he? His results speak for themselves.

He's taken a Rangers team that many felt wasn't good enough to reach the playoffs and has gotten them there through injury hardships few teams have faced this season or in any season.

* Ryan Callahan, the team's heart and soul -- and second-leading scorer -- missed 19 games with a broken hand early in the season, then suffered a fractured ankle with two games left in the regular season and won't be playing in this series with the Capitals

* Marian Gaborik, by far the most talented player on the team, missed 20 games due to various ailments that have resulted in the worst offensive season of his career.

* Prospal missed the first 53 games of this season while recovering from offseason knee surgery.

* Captain Chris Drury missed 56 games with injuries to his finger and knee.

* Alexander Frolov, signed in the offseason to add scoring depth, suffered a severe knee injury in January that cost him the final 39 games of the regular season and playoffs.

* Even backup goaltender Martin Biron, signed in the summer to ease the workload of Lundqvist, suffered a broken collarbone during practice in late February, forcing Tortorella to start Lundqvist in the team's final 26 games.

Despite all those injuries and more, Tortorella kept his team in the top eight in the Eastern Conference for nearly the entire season. But he deflects all the adulation for his team's ability to overcome adversity onto the players themselves.

"I think it's just a good group of guys," Tortorella said. "They play well together. They've bonded together throughout the year, through the ups and downs. I've said it many times, right from camp, there's a good tightness with this club."

While Tortorella is always quick to defend his players, one of the few he has called out is center Erik Christensen, who was claimed off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks in December 2009. Tortorella has said countless times that he believes Christensen has a world of talent, but lacks the confidence to believe in that talent.

Christensen talked about what it's like to play for a coach as intense as Tortorella when you're wearing a bull's-eye on your back at all times.

"He's the kind of guy who can get after you and get on you, but 10 minutes later he'll encourage you," Christensen told NHL.com. "He's emotional and into the game. He's honest and fair and you always know where you stand, good or bad. He'll tell you the truth. Sometimes it's tough to hear, but I think he's got everyone's backs and wants everyone to do well."

Christensen, who missed 18 games this season with a knee injury, offered an honest assessment of his relationship with Tortorella, one he considers very good.

"I probably frustrate him more than anyone else on this team," Christensen told NHL.com. "He's definitely given me an opportunity. I come up here and didn't know what to expect. He's definitely got a people kind of side to him. He's not the guy everyone sees on the bench. He'll talk to you. You'll see him laughing and joking with the guys. It's been a lot of fun playing for him."

As long as Tortorella has the respect of his players and he's getting the best out of them, nothing else that happens when he's in front of a microphone will ever matter.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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