EDMONTON – John Tortorella is back with the Blue Jackets, and though he joked that he wasn’t missed, there was a happy vibe today with the head coach back at work.
It was 10 days ago at the team’s outdoor practice at Winter Park when Rene Bourque hit a rut in the ice, fell and collided with Tortorella, knocking the coach’s feet out from underneath him and causing him to go down hard. So hard, in fact, that the players felt it on the ice.
“My first thought was ‘oh my god, I hope didn’t hit his head,’” captain Nick Foligno said today. “But it’s really good to have him back around the team. This is what he lives for. This is what he’s supposed to be doing, what he's meant to do, and it was great to see him get on that plane this morning.”
Tortorella missed three games after the accident that resulted in two broken ribs, leaving him essentially immobile for the good part of a week. The Blue Jackets went 2-0-1 over that span (Tortorella jokingly said his assistant coaches haven’t pointed it out yet, but he was sure the media would), dropping a shootout in Boston before a back-to-back sweep of Montreal prior to the league’s All-Star break.
You might ask yourself: what in the world does a coach do if he can’t, well, coach?
With the team’s 2016 exhibition schedule in his possession, Tortorella used his time on “injured reserve” to organize next fall’s training camp. That’s right: he now has a road map for every practice and off-ice testing session, giving him an inadvertent but welcomed head start on his first full season behind the Columbus bench.
“I had no question as far as how everything was going to be handled,” Tortorella said of his absence. “It’s not like I was missed or anything, it’s just selfishly, for me, I want to be with the team. It was frustrating because you’re not there and you want to be there. I would not have helped – it would have been more of a distraction. I’m just happy I’m back with the team now.”
Asked what he missed most about Tortorella in the week he was away, Foligno smiled and said he missed the pre-game speeches and the trademark intensity that he brings.
“Listen, he’s our head coach. He’s our leader and we missed him,” Foligno said. “You know if that guy’s not able to coach, he must be really hurting. You can tell he’s excited to be back with us and we’re excited that he’s healthy and back with us, too.”
Though he isn’t cleared to get back on the ice and doesn’t plan to be anytime soon, Tortorella was able to watch today’s hour-long practice from the lower bowl at Rexall Place and try to get back in his rhythm that had been rudely disrupted.
He was back in the element today, holding 1-on-1 meetings with players as soon as they arrived at the arena this afternoon. The video footage was already cut and ready to review, and so it was business as usual with the boss back on the job.
Tortorella was asked what the whole experience was like – to which he first sarcastically responded, “it hurt” – but said it was embarrassing more than anything.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time – it was a public practice, outdoors with people (watching),” Tortorella said. “I don’t want to be in that spot, being walked off the ice. You want to be with your team, you want to work…that was the frustrating part. I’m just glad I’m back.”