In all their years working in the NHL, Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi and John Tortorella never crossed paths. But when Lombardi, the GM for Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, approached Tortorella about being his coach, it didn't take long for a connection to form.
Tortorella was announced as coach for Team USA on Monday. He said Tuesday that after being asked to interview with Lombardi and his management staff, he put together notes for the initial meeting. Then he heard Lombardi speak at his introduction as Team USA GM in August and something clicked.
"I listened to him speak … and I looked at my notes and the bullet points I had, and I said I think we're thinking pretty similar," Tortorella said. "It's pretty neat for me. I just thought it was a good connection. In the time and process I've gone through with him, I think I've connected with him. It doesn't always happen that way."
Having that bond and being on the same page is something Lombardi and Tortorella said will be key in the short span Team USA will be together, from a brief training camp leading into the tournament, which starts Sept. 17, 2016 and runs through Oct. 1. All games will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, and games will be televised by ESPN in the United States and Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
"Dean said it has to be a team," Tortorella said. "Not only with the players but within the management and the coaches."
Lombardi said one of the things that impressed him was the respect Tortorella commands among players, which he believes is important in building a team for a short tournament.
"I know from having talked to a number of players this summer that he already commands their respect," Lombardi said. "One thing about John is that he instantly gives your team an identity. No question he stands for something. When you've got a short tournament you don't have time to build that. It almost has to be immediate and John brings that instantly when he comes into a team. I know from talking to a number of the key players that he has a lot of respect already in that room."
Though the tournament doesn't start for another year, Tortorella already has started formulating how he wants Team USA to play. Beyond what he said would be a high-pressure, attacking style is the mental approach he wants his team to have.
"Let's forget about the X's and O's," he said. "It's about a mindset. It's about a team that needs to feel good about itself before this tournament even starts; needs to feel strong mentally about itself. Intangibles in such a short tournament are huge."
Tortorella, who has been out of the NHL since being fired by the Vancouver Canucks on May 1, 2014, will spend this season working as an analyst for NHL Network, and traveling around scouting players and talking to coaches. He said he's already finalized his schedule for the first two months of the season and will be frequently traveling with Philadelphia Flyers president Paul Holmgren, the assistant GM for Team USA.
Lombardi said Tortorella's employment status wasn't an issue in his hiring but that it can work to an advantage.
"It wasn't a determining factor, but once you make a decision it's a bonus," he said. "I've been there before, having been a GM and then having to go scouting, and it really helps to have a different perspective. It puts him in the rinks without putting him behind the bench. … It gives him a chance to sit with people on our staff when they're looking at players; he's meeting with Holmgren next week. He gets to meet some assistant coaching candidates. There's a lot of benefits."
What Lombardi also saw as a benefit was Tortorella being away from the coaching machine for 16 months. He said in his experience coaches can come back stronger after some time off the bench. He pointed to Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who was away for the game for nearly a year before being hired by the Kings in December 2011 and coaching them to the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.
"A little time off and boom," Lombardi said. "Ken Hitchcock, same thing. Bob Hartley, look at the job he's done since he's come back. You talk to all those guys, they all will talk about having a little time off broadened their perspective. All those guys would say it made them stronger and opened their eyes to some things that wouldn't have happened if they were continually in the meat grinder."
And Lombardi certainly got the impression Tortorella is completely rejuvenated and ready to get back to work.
"We always knew he's a passionate person," Lombardi said. "I remember sitting with Paul Holmgren and Mike O'Connell and JJ [Jim Johannson of USA Hockey], and the juice and passion that came out of him was like you were in a hurricane. He's always had that, but clearly some time off has added to that passion."
It's a passion Lombardi and Tortorella believe can lead to success next year.
"I really look forward to the opportunity, when we get to that stage, of working with [Lombardi] and the management and the staff," Tortorella said. "I think it'll be seamless."