By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
After coaching the Rangers for 21 regular-season and seven postseason games last season, John Tortorella will get the opportunity to conduct his first training camp as head coach of the Blueshirts beginning Saturday morning.
Tortorella was hired as the 34th head coach in franchise history last Feb. 23, and he scrambled the rest of the season to become familiar with players in the Rangers organization as he attempted to instill a new philosophy and style of play. It was a difficult balancing act for the head coach, although he was still able to guide the club into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
|Rangers head coach John Tortorella is expected to put his players through a grueling camp with the goal of making them the best-conditioned NHL team. |
This season, the Rangers are Tortorella’s team from Day One. And the Rangers bench boss is eager to get to work.
“I have a clean slate, because I want to give everybody an opportunity,” he said on Friday. “(The players) are going to make the decisions for us as far as where they sit with this team, what role they play on this team, or if they make the team. I am trying to be as objective as possible.”
There has been much turnover on the Rangers roster since Tortorella first took over the coaching reins. This summer alone, prominent forwards Marian Gaborik
, Christopher Higgins, Ales Kotalik, Donald Brashear, and Vinny Prospal were all brought in by Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather.
And there might even be more new faces on the opening night roster, according to the head coach.
“I am really hoping there are some surprises with the kids,” Tortorella said, “because I have made no bones about it -- that I am hoping that we can get two kids on that back end and two kids on the forward lines so that we can develop four kids as we move along here.
“We have to keep growing on our base of the (Ryan) Callahans, the (Brandon) Dubinskys, the (Marc) Staals, the (Dan) Girardis, and add a few more here. Then you are building your team, and maybe there won’t be as much turnover as you go through the years because you have your foundation of youth.”
Along with developing a mixed corps of veterans and youngsters into a cohesive and winning team, Tortorella will use much of training camp to test and push the physical limits of his players.
Tortorella plans a very grueling camp, one that will see the first two days devoted entirely to conditioning tests. That means there will be no hockey drills or scrimmages until the third day of training camp.
The players were forewarned by the head coach that this would be the case, and he was pleased to see a group of 25 to 30 of them holding informal workouts at the MSG Training Center several weeks before the start of camp to prepare themselves for what lies ahead.
“This lets us know where you want to sit with the team, because I am putting a lot of emphasis on what type of shape you are in camp,” Tortorella said. “There is a different type of culture I want to see here, and this is all part of it.”
Tortorella has stated his desire that the Rangers become a harder team for opponents to face. Elite physical conditioning is a major part of that. So, too, is mental toughness and an aggressive style of play.
These ingredients helped make Tortorella’s Tampa Bay team a Stanley Cup champion five years ago, and he firmly believes what he will put the Rangers through during the training-camp period -- and how the players have already prepared for the steep challenges that lie ahead -- will bond the team and set it on a course for success.
“I just believe so much that conditioning is such a huge part of winning because you are not chasing the game, the game’s coming to you when you are in top shape,” said Tortorella. “Without hurting them, we want to see how far they can go.”
As for his plans for the preseason games, the head coach said that he wants to get a good look at the youngsters in the first few matches. However, by time the Rangers play their final three preseason contests, Tortorella wants to be carrying around 25 players, so that he and his staff can focus more on installing the game plan which will be used in the regular season while determining which players will earn the final spots on the opening night roster.
The Rangers kick off their preseason schedule on Tuesday at at Madison Square Garden against the Boston Bruins.
“I have a strong philosophy about how we’re going to go about this,” said Tortorella. “But there always has to be a partnership between the players and coaches, too.”