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Tortorella to coach 1,000th NHL game

Will become first born in U.S. to reach mark when Blue Jackets host Devils

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- John Tortorella loves what he calls "the process'' of developing players and how it takes time to get results. 

He coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup in his third full season but said the steps to get there were more gratifying. 

"Winning the Stanley Cup wasn't the most exciting thing for me," Tortorella, coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, said this week. "It was looking back to the process we used in winning it." 

It might sound as if Tortorella doesn't take time to appreciate what he has accomplished, but that would be off the mark. 

When the Blue Jackets host the New Jersey Devils at Nationwide Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+2, FS-O, NHL.TV), he will become the first American-born coach to reach 1,000 NHL regular-season games.

Video: Coach Tortorella discusses his 1,000th career game

"I'm very fortunate in having some people around me who have given me the opportunities that I've been given, where some very good coaches have not been given the chance," he told the Blue Jackets website. 

"A thousand games means you been given chances. People have entrusted you with their teams, and obviously I've been around some really good people to be involved in so many games." 

Tortorella is the 26th NHL coach, 10th active, to reach 1,000 games. The 57-year-old is 474-402-123 in 15 seasons; he is 28-27-8 with Columbus since taking over for Todd Richards on Oct. 21 after the Blue Jackets started this season 0-7-0. 

Tortorella knows what it's like to be fired. He coached Tampa Bay from 2000-08; the New York Rangers from 2008-13 (he had a four-game interim stint with the Rangers in 2000); and one season with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14. 

After leaving the Canucks, he wondered if he would get another chance. 

It came when his longtime friend, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson, made a late-night call after Columbus lost 4-0 to the New York Islanders on Oct. 20, 2015. The next morning, Tortorella was introduced as Blue Jackets coach. 

"When you get the job, you're really excited, but someone else lost their job," Tortorella said. "That has really fallen on me as I've lost a job a few times. I'm always concerned about the guy who lost the job, because I've been there. 

"You self-search. You lose your confidence. I kind of crawl into a hole and self-evaluate." 

What he learned was that he needed to listen more and communicate better. 

Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky, who played for Tortorella in New York, remembers the two often butting heads even though they have the same goals. 

"He's an intense guy. I'm an intense guy," Dubinsky said last month. "He's a guy that cares a lot about this group and I care a lot about these guys too. We both want to win, so there's a lot of similarities, but there's a lot of differences, too, we need to sort out once in a while." 

Tortorella, who will coach Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in September, will be the fourth coach to reach 1,000 games this season, joining the Rangers' Alain Vigneault (Dec. 11 at the Edmonton Oilers), the Arizona Coyotes' Dave Tippett (Feb. 2 vs. the Los Angeles Kings), and the Toronto Maple Leafs' Mike Babcock (Feb. 4 vs. New Jersey).   

The Blue Jackets will not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, but that hasn't dampened Tortorella's enthusiasm. 

"I know people don't want to hear it because they've heard it for a number of years here, but we're going through a process with the team," he said. "The amount of teaching that goes into this is what grabs you. I think it's going to be fun." 

The players might not always agree with that word. 

"He's a guy that demands a lot out of you," Dubinsky said. "He always talks about the process and growing into a good pro. He's a guy that certainly helped me get there along the way. 

"You go through growing pains with him, but that's just because he wants to make you better, wants to get the best out of you. He sees the maturity." 

Tortorella said his satisfaction in coaching can't be measured by wins and losses. 

"It's about people and what you're doing to try and help them be good people," he said. "I play a role in that. I'm entrusted in trying to mold them and give them the opportunity to be good people. That's the most important thing."

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