You've really gotta like John Tortorella. He's won a Stanley Cup, so he's obviously a good coach.
He's quite quotable (as long as you don't give a s--- if you occasionally have to fill in the g-- d--- blanks), which means he's a 'can't-miss' interview.
He might be the only guy in the NHL who dares wear a black shirt with his jacket and tie behind a bench, which makes him unafraid to do his own thing.
And, man, can he take a punch!
Even with a fist containing a foreign object.
We found that to be true after Tortorella guided his Tampa Bay Lightning through a practice at the Bell Sensplex yesterday.
Rather than hold the coach's daily media address in a practical meeting or conference room, a collection of 15-20 reporters were herded into what soon became a very crammed dressing room.
A couple of us who usually wind up near the back of these scrums and behind the cameramen decided to stand up on a bench so we could actually see Tortorella, and because we were also close to the door, we were the first to hear him arrive.
Noticing he was about to enter tight quarters, Tortorella was still around the corner and out of sight from the media when he jokingly said to a P.R. guy, "I'll just answer the questions from here."
Playing along, I thrust my hand and tape recorder hard around the corner so as to collect his quotes even though I couldn't see him.
Unbeknownst to myself, however, Tortorella decided to walk forward at that exact time.
Right in the forehead. Right between the eyes, I hit the Bolts bench boss. Hard enough that colleagues on the other side of the small room heard it. Hard enough to make me think he was either going to start bleeding or fall down or both. Hard enough that Tortorella's eyes watered, his jaw dropped and -- what we're guessing must have been a rare occasion -- he was rendered speechless.
"What the...?" he stammered.
"Uh, um ... sorry?" I said.
Dumbfounded, he stared at me, shook his head, then continued on to the centre of the room. Before answering questions, he looked up at me again.
"I should f------ smoke you," he said.
I laughed, apologized again and shook his hand.
He smiled wryly, then proceeded with the Q & A's.
"Score goals," Tortorella replied when someone wondered what his team had to do in Game 2 if it is to even the first-round series with the Senators.
"I thought we had opportunities, at least chances to score on our power play (in Game 1, a 4-1 Senators win) and we didn't come through. That was a big part of the game.
"As I said (Friday night), these aren't going to be 1-0 scores. We're going to have to score some goals. Going into the third period, the special teams battle we were winning, but we lost it in the third period. So, we're trying to get better there."
Are you contemplating changes?
Are you concerned about the chances Ottawa is getting shorthanded?
"Sure, you're always worried about chances against. But again, we need to score some goals."
If this was two seasons ago, would you be more concerned about a loss like that?
"Don't go back two seas ... I'm tired of hearing this s--- about going back two seasons. Let's talk about this season. Talk about this season."
'SOME GOOD THINGS'
But because you've been through this experience, are you not as concerned about a loss like that?
"No, I'm not concerned. Not about two seasons ago. I'm not concerned about it because of this year. I think we've done some good things this year, as far as a little bit of resiliency. A lot of people don't believe that, but we do. Listen, we ended up losing a hockey game. But it is a series. After a loss in viewing the tape, there are some really good things that we did. Our confidence isn't shaken. It's not shaken. I think a lot of people think it is, but again, there's no pressure on us. We're going to go out and stick with our game plan, and try to find a way to do it for three periods. Or 21/2 periods, and find a way to get a win."
What do you want to see more of?
"Goals. Anything that will produce goals. When we were up 1-0, we had multiple chances and couldn't score that second goal."
You said there's no pressure on you entering the series, about the Senators having pressure issues. Do you think there's any pressure on you now?
"Oh, I think there's a ton of pressure on them. I think that goes without saying through the whole series. They're supposed to win. I sound like a broken record with that stuff. We don't need to talk about that anymore because I think there's enough talk about it going on the other side. We're going to play. It's two good teams, with really good players offensively and defensively, and it's going to be up to the players to find ways to win games on both sides.
"Good enough guys? Thank you."
With that, Tortorella left the room, glancing our way one final time. A little later, when he was leaving the building, he said something to a couple of columnists about "you guys don't like me."
Not true. In this job, we're forever going after a coach's head.
This was just the first time we ever got away with punching one.