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Tortorella expected to add more 'fire' to bench

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
New Rangers coach John Tortorella already has familiarity with some of the Blueshirts, including Brandon Dubinsky, right, whom he coached on Team USA at last year's World Championships.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

As Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather watched his team skate against the Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, he decided that something he had been contemplating for several weeks was indeed the right thing to do for the organization.

So on Monday morning at the MSG Training Center, Sather informed Tom Renney, the club’s head coach since February 25, 2004, that he was being relieved of his coaching duties with 21 games remaining in the 2008-09 regular season.

In a conference call several hours later, Sather announced that former Stanley Cup-winning coach John Tortorella had agreed to a multiyear contract to become the 34th head coach in the 83-year history of the Rangers franchise.

“After the start that we had at the beginning of the year, and the way we were playing and moving and controlling the puck, the game just started to erode and I knew that sooner or later we would have to do something,” explained Sather. “I wish it hadn’t come to this, but it did. The last two, three games it was pretty obvious that we had to have something done.”

The Rangers won their first five matches of the season, and stormed out to a 10-2-1 record. But soon thereafter their play leveled off, reaching its roughest stretch over the last 12 games in which they have posted a 2-7-3 mark.

Sather expressed great concern over the fact that the Rangers had abandoned the aggressive puck-pursuit they exhibited in the first month or so of the season. As a result, he believed that Renney’s more passive style and calm demeanor needed to be replaced with the opposite approach.

“I think Torts is going to bring a lot more fire to his game and to his approach, and that’s not to be critical of Tom’s approach, that’s just his personality,” explained Sather. “If you look at some of the players on our team and the past coaches they had in their history, a lot of the guys have thrived under that kind of coaching. And I felt that we needed to get more fire in there.”

Tortorella is an intensely passionate man, who, in the past, has not been shy about confronting his players. His style of play consists of an exciting blend of high-energy puck pursuit, aggressive forechecking, and offensive creativity combined with a keen sense of defensive awareness.

It is this style that Tortorella used during his seven-year tenure as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which included two division titles, four playoff appearances, and the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship.

Over 539 career games coached - -including four as interim head coach of the Rangers following John Muckler’s dismissal late in the 1999-2000 campaign -- Tortorella earned 239 victories and a points-captured percentage of .513.

“I guess in retrospect I can look back and say it would have been smart to keep him,” Sather said of Tortorella’s leaving New York for Tampa Bay in the spring of 2000. “That was eight and a half years ago now, and things have a way of coming full circle. I know that he’s always been interested in the Rangers and he always loved to be here and coach here. So I am looking forward to getting to know him very well.”

John Tortorella poses with the Jack Adams Award he won for being named the NHL's top head coach in 2003-04.
Tortorella had been hired by then-GM Neil Smith to serve as an assistant under Muckler for the 1999-2000 season. Sather replaced Smith after the season ended, so he does not have previous experience working with Tortorella.

The same can not be said for current Rangers Assistant General Manager Jim Schoenfeld. For two seasons -- 1997-98 and 1998-99 -- while Schoenfeld was the head coach in Phoenix, Tortorella was his assistant. Due to that two-year association, Sather said that Schoenfeld had much input into the decision to hire Tortorella as the Rangers bench boss on Monday.

In an ironic role reversal, Schoenfeld will serve as one of Tortorella’s assistants for the remainder of this season. He takes the place of Perry Pearn, who was also relieved of his duties, and will work alongside fellow assistant Mike Pelino and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, who were both retained by Sather.

The team Tortorella inherits currently sits in a fifth-place tie with the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference standings. However, the Rangers are in a fight to solidify a playoff spot since they are only one point ahead of the Panthers and Sabres, and just two up on the Hurricanes, who are in ninth place and on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.

“I still think we have a team that has played very well, but I think we’ve entered into a time right now where the team has not played very well,” stated Sather. “That doesn’t mean we can’t get back to playing like we did at the beginning of the year. That’s why we made the change in coaching personnel.”

Sather said that Renney, the fourth-winningest coach in franchise history is going to take some time off before assessing his future plans. Sather also stated that Renney is welcome to remain in the Rangers organization in a yet-to-be-specified role.

“It was a tough thing for both of us to deal with emotionally,” said Sather. “He approached everything very professionally, and you can’t say enough about the way he worked with us for the past three and a half years.”

Sather was also quick to point out that Renney was not solely to blame for the Rangers’ recent struggles.

“We all have to take responsibility for this,” said Sather.

Tortorella flew into New York late on Monday evening, and he will conduct his first practice on Tuesday morning. After that, it will be right back on a plane for him as he and his new team will jet off to Toronto for a rematch with the Maple Leafs, and the start of a new era for the Rangers organization, on Wednesday night.
 
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