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A NEW VOICE: TORCHETTI TAKES THE REIGNS

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
John Torchetti had been in Los Angeles for about one hour on Tuesday before he and his voice faced a throng of television cameras, radio microphones and newspaper people's notebooks in the Kings dressing room at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.


In fact, Torchetti's introductory press conference was the first time he had stepped foot in the Kings dressing room, and it was less than 24 hours after he received a call from Dave Taylor which gauged his interest in the Kings' brand new opening as head coach.

Some 3,000 miles away at his home in Massachusetts, Torchetti, a former assistant coach with both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, had to contain himself – let alone try and get some sleep -- before getting on an airplane the next morning and jetting to L.A. to try and resurrect a (at the moment) struggling hockey club with just 12 games left in an up-and-down Kings season that would make air turbulence seem, well, normal.

And just like that, with the title of Kings Interim Head Coach now on his resume, 41-year-old John Torchetti was under the bright lights?¢?Ǩ¬¶and on the hot seat.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," he calmly said. "The next 12 games?¢?Ǩ¬¶I want to enjoy the ride."

Calling Torchetti an outsider would certainly not be out of line. Especially from the perspective of the Kings, seeing that he had never worked for the organization before. But with nearly 10 years of professional coaching experience, he was the man Taylor, the club's president, hockey operations/general manager, turned to when he decided to dismiss Andy Murray, the Kings' long-time head coach.

"John is a tremendous coach who possesses very good communication, teaching and motivational skills. We look forward to him directing our team down the stretch," Taylor said.

Most recently the Florida Panthers' interim head coach during the final 27 games of the 2003-04 season after working for that club as an assistant for one-and-one-half seasons, Torchetti originally caught Taylor's eye when he interviewed for the organization's vacant American League Hockey (AHL) head coaching position with the Kings' primary affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, this past summer.

Taylor ultimately chose Monarchs assistant coach Jim Hughes for that job, but with the Kings in a fight to secure a playoff spot now, Taylor reached out to the East Coast and found Torchetti, who is known to friends and co-workers as "Torch."

The 20th coach in Kings history, Torchetti was not around to see the Kings lose five of their last seven games. And with a once-strong hold onto a post-season berth is danger now as the regular season winds down, Taylor, despite the team's overall record of 37-28-5 at the time of the move, was obviously not pleased with the Kings' overall play in recent weeks, which included a 5-0 loss at home Monday night to rival Colorado.

By removing Murray, the Kings' all-time coaching leader in wins, and hiring Torchetti, the Kings have again turned to a coach who has not ran an NHL team as a head coach full-time. Murray lasted seven seasons, and while Torchetti has no assurances beyond these next dozen games, it is the immediate future that is his concern.

Kings captain/defenseman Mattias Norstrom agreed with Taylor's decision to make a change: "It was needed to be done now."

At the same time, however, Norstrom agreed that Murray did not deserve all of the blame.

"I talked to a lot of my teammates Tuesday night. I tried to convey the message that 'Guys, we've got to realize the responsibility still falls on us. We're at fault because we've got ourselves and Andy Murray in this position.'"

Said the well-spoken Torchetti: "I need to get to know these players and know what it takes for them to perform at their highest level."

Torchetti did his fair share of meeting – and listening – to his new players on Wednesday, his first on-ice day with the squad. He had said on Tuesday that his office has an open-door policy, which was proven on Wednesday despite loud music at times emanating from the Kings dressing room and gym, and he met with guys both individually and in groups.

Prior to the past few days, the only King player Torchetti knew personally was Valeri Bure, who has been out all season due to injury. Moments after Tuesday's press conference, Torch met for several hours with his assistant coaches, Mark Hardy and Ray Bennett, and goaltending consultant Andy Nowicki.

John Van Boxmeer, a Kings assistant coach since the 2002-03 season, was relived of his duties by Taylor along with Murray.

While Torchetti endured the long flight from Boston to Los Angeles in preparation for his new job, his career as a coach actually began in 1993 as an assistant with the Greensboro Monarchs of the East Coach Hockey League.

He made several stops as an assistant and head coach in such minor league outlets as San Antonio and Fort Wayne, and he held a number of odd jobs, including work as a cab driver, to help pay the bills before his first NHL coaching job as an assistant with Tampa Bay in 1999. He worked two season behind the Tampa bench before taking a front office job with the 'Ning as assistant scouting director.

In 2002, he returned to coaching with Florida's AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, before being elevated to Florida's coaching staff in 2003. One season later, he went 10-12-5 as the interim coach with the Panthers.

Serge Payer, a forward with Florida, talked to Torchetti upon hearing the news. "He's very excited to go in there and make a difference," Payer told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. "It's a good opportunity for him." Kings center Craig Conroy saw it as a new start: "Everyone starts from scratch here as far as the team goes."

While the short time frame works against Torchetti in terms of implementing a certain type of system or quickly evaluating his new players, the chance for the voice of a relatively unknown coach to bring a team together successfully can very well determine not only his future but the fate of the 2005-06 Kings.

"We need all of the players firing on all cylinders. We have to find ways to get our club to understand the commitment that it's going to have to take here for the next 12 games," said Torchetti, who played eight professional minor league seasons as a left wing.

"For them as players the ride that we're going to be on for the next 12 games is what it is all about. I want them to be able to enjoy this ride and get this organization to the playoffs."

That ride, with Torchetti behind the wheel, begins with Nashville at STAPLES Center.

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