By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
There is a commonly used phrase when someone joins something that is already under way and wishes to get up to speed as quickly as possible. It is called “hitting the ground running”.
When John Tortorella was named head coach of the Rangers last Feb. 23, he not only hit the ground running, he was in a full-fledged sprint to make sure the Rangers reached the playoffs.
|Rangers head coach John Tortorella made an off-season point of getting to know captain Chris Drury, and the two are on the same page at training camp. |
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As he installed a new system of play, rebuilt the collective confidence of the club, and made personnel decisions on the fly, Tortorella was still able to guide the Rangers into the postseason by going 12-7-2 over the final 21 games of the regular season.
However, with so much to do, so much to accomplish, and so much to learn in such a short period of time, Tortorella did not have a real chance to forge relationships with his players. And just as importantly, they did not have the opportunity to really figure him out either.
So when the off-season arrived, Tortorella knew it was important for him to reach out to key players on the roster and begin fostering deeper relationships. He began by contacting team captain Chris Drury on a regular basis this summer.
“I wanted to get to know him, and I wanted him to get to know me, because he is the captain of this hockey club,” Tortorella said of Drury. “I thought it was important. I think he is beginning to feel more comfortable with me. And I feel more comfortable with him.”
Tortorella realized that Drury, as captain of the club, was probably the most vital player with which he had to build a working relationship. If the coach and captain are not in lock-step together, there could be problems during a long season delivering the proper messages to the rest of the team.
Drury certainly has appreciated the respect his coach has shown him. And there is no doubt whatsoever that he is of like mind with Tortorella heading into the 2009-10 season.
“Every time he called, it was great to hear what he was thinking and what he wanted from me,” said Drury. “He just kind of pushed me along and told me ‘this is what I am expecting and this is what guys should be ready for’. It was great to learn about his personality even more, as I’m sure he learned more about mine.”
Interestingly, even though there share many similarities, Drury and Tortorella had never met one another over the years until last February.
“It’s weird because even though we’re both American and from New England, we had never really crossed paths,” said Drury. “The first time I met him was right here at the dry-erase board the day he got hired.”
Now that captain and coach are building a stronger and deeper relationship, they are sharing the same message for the upcoming season, that the Rangers need to work harder and be more focused on the business at hand this year.
In the words Tortorella used last spring, and Drury shared again during training camp: Shut Up and Play!
“I think that’s what’s been in my head and that’s what he’s instilling in all of us,” Drury said of the straightforward mantra.
“I think in this city and in this organization, we are treated so well by Glen (Sather) and Mr. Dolan, and it’s a privilege to be treated that well,” said the Rangers captain. “But when you come to work and you come to the rink for practice or a game or a pregame skate, it’s time for business. You’ve got to leave all the other stuff at the door and be ready to play.”
While it’s one thing for Drury to be sharing Tortorella’s message, it’s another for him to follow through and lead by example on the ice. And Drury has done just that so far in training camp.
Drury arrived at camp in tremendous physical condition. His performance during the strength and skating tests was exemplary the first two days. To Tortorella, that is just another sign of Drury’s leadership skills.
And it is that leadership from Drury -- and from other key veterans on the Rangers roster -- that Tortorella expects will help pull this team together throughout the long season.
“If you are going to be a winning team, that has to sustain itself, and it can’t always be the coach being in there correcting things and maybe disciplining,” said Tortorella. “They have to discipline themselves. And that’s when you’ve got it. That’s when you’ve got the right stuff to be a real competitive hockey team, and you go further in the playoffs.”