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Sunday Feature: "I need to listen"

by Katie Foglia / Columbus Blue Jackets

“I think it’s important that I need to listen,” John Tortorella said during his introductory press conference at Nationwide Arena after being named head coach of the Blue Jackets.

Pulling from experience, the tenured coach spoke to the media on Oct. 21 and said he wanted to first figure out what was going on in Columbus and act accordingly as time progressed.

“It’s so important that we do it collectively here as a (management) group, coaches and players,” Tortorella told the media during the press conference. “We need to have some honesty among ourselves so we can get on the right road.”

Although that road, which began seven weeks ago, has been filled with ups and downs, the Blue Jackets believe they're working toward better habits, and captain Nick Foligno said he feels that Tortorella has the right voice and attitude to help the team build in the right direction.

“I think it’s his attitude. That’s how he’s bettered our team,” Foligno said. “He’s given us some keys and some pointers to get our mind set right and understand that this is a hard league, but it’s a league that you have to work hard in and have a standard and not fall below it.

“We’re happy he’s here. He’s been a big help for us, and we’re looking forward to just getting better under him.”

The Jackets have played some solid, complete games under Tortorella, including their 4-1 victory against the Flyers in Philadelphia last weekend. But, there is still work to be done, evidenced by some disappointing efforts against Los Angeles and Florida on home ice.

Tortorella made it clear after the overtime loss to the Kings that he was not happy with his team’s performance in all areas, because he knew they were capable of much more than they showed.

“He’s very verbal with us,” forward Matt Calvert said. “We watch video quite a bit. We critique our systems and it’s all constructive criticism. It’s (about) learning and I think that’s what we’ve done collectively as a group, so we have to keep learning and keep getting better.”

Foligno said since Tortorella has arrived, there has been a lot of listening and learning going on between the new head coach and his players. It hasn't been a one-way street; instead, they're rolling the sleeves up together.

“We admitted to him we don’t know everything, and we’re trying to get out of this just as much as he is, and we’re going to have to do it together,” Foligno said. “He’s been really good about listening and we’ve been really good about listening to him as well, and I think it’s helped us.

“It’s helped us grow our relationship — all of us together with him — and I think you can start to see our team identity.”

That identity and attitude, which was once lost, is what Tortorella wants to be the standard and believes can be the standard every single night.

“One thing (Tortorella) preaches is hard work, sticking to the systems and playing at both ends of the ice,” Calvert said. “That’s something we’re all trying to get better at, and I think that’s something that if we continue to improve in, we’ll see more wins.”

The Jackets are 11-10-3 since Tortorella assumed head coaching duties, and he has kept his word since his first press conference, continuing to stress the importance of listening and communicating with each and every player on the roster.

“We’re still at a little bit of a crossroads there, as far as how much I’m going to listen, because I think we have a lot of teaching to do and that’s where our voice comes in more,” Tortorella said. “There are days when it’s important that I listen to them. There are days it’s important that they listen to us as coaches.

“There's been more days they’ve had to listen to us, (but) I’m hoping that reverses, and I think that’s when you have the right type of communication and that’s where your game is more consistent."

One of those voices, the team captain Foligno, said Tortorella's high standard and expectations have kept them focused and concentrated on the short-term (putting quality shifts together on a repeat basis within games) and the long-term (putting wins together and climbing the standings).

“There’s a standard that he lives up to, and either you’re going to meet that standard or you’re not,” Foligno said. “And, if you don’t meet it, you’re going to pay the consequence. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed from him, and he follows through on it.

“It keeps everybody accountable, it keeps everybody in line, and I think it keeps us focused on the same goal, and that’s winning hockey.”

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