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Five Questions: Torts on changing Canucks' culture

by Dan Rosen /'s weekly Q&A feature called "Five Questions With ..." is back for the 2013-14 season. We talk to key figures in the game today and ask them poignant questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the state of their teams.

The latest edition features Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella:

John Tortorella has immersed himself in his first training camp with the Vancouver Canucks, digging around to learn about his new players, the identity they already have and working on the one he feels they still need to create.

He offered insight into what it's like to be one of the most controversial voices in the NHL, what he wants from his new team and why he coaches the way he coaches during a 20-minute phone conversation.

Here are Five Questions With…John Tortorella:

You talked about your feelings toward Twitter [last week] and it's all over the news, on every website and was a big conversation piece throughout the NHL. You mention how you're going to be the kinder, gentler Tortorella in the media and that becomes a major topic. What is it like for you to know that when you say something it is going to go up in lights, so to speak?

"Quite honestly with you, I don't read the papers. But if my thoughts on Twitter turned into a big deal, then it's an awfully slow day. But I guess that's the way it works right now and there's nothing I can do about it. As the way I've gone I make my own bed there. I do. I realize that. I still don't get it as of right now if something is made big of those types of comments. That was just kind of at the end of a conversation. I don't know, it's something I don't get sometimes, but I understand that I have made some mistakes along the way. But you know what? I'm still going to answer the questions as best I can. I'm not going to just do hockey-speak and say all the cliches and stuff like that. I didn't think that [the Twitter comment] was a big deal, but I guess that's where it is right now."

When do you think you will be, or are you already comfortable in knowing what you have in Vancouver and how this team can play?

"I don't have a clue what this team is about. I'll tell you one thing: Each day I'm around them I am so impressed with the Sedins. That's one of the biggest things that I have going for me as a new coach in a new organization. To have your two best players act, go about their business, handle themselves in the locker room and do what they do on the ice with the conditioning we've gone through, it's a huge plus for me. I've made no bones about it, I want young kids in the lineup and we need to get young kids in the lineup here, but if they aren't watching these two guys and how they go about their business, then they're crazy. Each day it's just so impressive. I hear people talk that they're soft and this and that, but just the class they have shown so far and how hard they work it is just going to make my job easier in trying to have a sell as far as how we want to play."

From last season's Canucks games that you watched on tape, what did you see that has to change for you to get this team back to where it was in 2011, competing for the Stanley Cup?

"Well, I think the mindset.

"The Sedins, when you watch them on tape, there is nothing going on and bang, there's a goal. They make something out of nothing. I think we have some quality offensive people, but the thing that stuck out to me is I just don't think they're a hard enough team to play against. And I'm not trying to criticize because the organization has been successful. They have been and they've got some really good people here, I can see that, but for you to sustain over an 82-game schedule and try to get to where you want to be in the playoffs and go where everybody wants to go, it just can't be passing plays and off the rush.

"Everybody is talking about creating offense. Everybody wants more offense and these tic-tac-toe plays. Yeah, that's great to get a few of those here and there, but it just doesn't happen that often. That's where I see a little bit of a weakness in this club as far as sustaining their straight-up forecheck, holding onto pucks and the grind of the game.

"Every time I used that word [grind] in New York it was about defense; it isn't about defense. Grinding is about playing a complete game. I do think it's an older team that three years ago it was there, one game away, but I just think it needs to change its mindset here in how hard we have to be. That is my biggest job, not the X's and O's of it, but the mindset of what you have to be as a player."

Speaking of mindset, you could have entered a situation with a difficult goaltending controversy, or at the very least an unhappy No. 1 goalie, but you've got Roberto Luongo and it seems like he's on board. You're not one to deal with the goalies too often, at least you weren't with Henrik Lundqvist because you never felt the need, but what does it do for you and your transition to the new club to know you have your one guy, he's an established guy and that position seems to be solved?

Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 9-6-3
GAA: 2.56 | SVP: 0.907
"I never met Louie [Luongo] until camp here, but I watched him play when I was in Tampa and he was in Florida. I talked to a lot of people after that happened [Cory Schneider traded to the New Jersey Devils], after the draft, and everybody, the first thing they talked about is what type of pro he is. Louie has discussed it. He said he was done and he wasn't happy about certain things, but that happens to a lot of players. You don't always have to be happy. I know I have in this guy here that no matter what people will say or what type of distractions will be out there because of this, he is ready to play. I watch how hard this guy works. I watch how his teammates move to him. He's a heck of a goalie and I don't think we're going to have a problem at all. He just wants to play."

This is more of a coaching philosophy question because you want your guys to block shots. Does it concern you that when a forward or a defenseman goes down to block a shot that it can take him out of the play and limit a transitional rush? And when you have a world-class goalie like Lundqvist or Luongo, why isn't there a preference to let him see the shot instead of having a body fly in front of him?

"There are certain times you need to give the shot to the goalie and that's all split-second thinking, but I think we overthink. I want to do A before B. If I can get a body in front of a shot and we have the willingness to do that, it doesn't even get to the net to have a chance to go in. Yeah, there's going to be deflections, there's going to be screens, but what I think is the proper way of playing defense in that situation is trying to block a shot.

"There's another side of it too. You're trying to develop a culture. I told you earlier in the conversation that part of what I think we have to do here in Vancouver is create a different type of identity here. When your team is blocking shots, when a Sedin blocks a shot, or whoever it may be, it creates accountability and it creates a culture as far as a tough team to play against. It's already taken on a life of its own out here in Vancouver as far as this blocking shots, but if a Sedin blocks a shot, where do you think our bench is going to go? To me, it's a huge thing for a team to see one of those guys block a shot, one of your top players, players who have been maybe criticized at times that they're not willing to play in those areas. Where do you think your team goes? They get 10-feet tall on the bench and another guy goes, 'Well, if he is going to block a shot I need to get involved.'

"It's not only I think the proper way to play defense, but I think it helps you develop an identity and develop a culture within your room."

Bonus question: So should we assume the Sedins are going to be blocking shots?

"They're going to be killing penalties and I hope they do [block shots] because I know both Danny and Hank want more. In my conversations with them this summer they want more. I've told the team I'm going to ask more out of everybody on this club and they've embraced that. For them to get more they're going to be put in more situations, not just offensively but away from the puck and killing penalties, and they can be very dangerous people killing penalties. So if they're going to kill penalties they're going to end up blocking some shots. As they see that I think they're going to feel better about themselves that they're becoming complete players because that's the way they think.

"The next question that I'm sure is going to be asked is what if they get hurt. So be it. You need to play the game the right way. You get injuries in a lot of different ways. You need to play the game the right way and that's what we're going to try to do."


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