The long and Tort of it

EARL MCRAE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:26 PM ET

You readers probably think it's all so easy for us.

You pick up the paper, you see the stories and columns all so tidy and complete, you think everybody we talk to is instantly available to talk to us when we want to talk to them, and then we sit down and knock off our pieces in five minutes, what a piece of cake, such an easy job.

Right.

I head to Scotiabank Place to interview John Tortorella, head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. No problem, from all I've heard the guy's delightfully outspoken and accommodating, full of great quotes, such as in 2004 when a reporter asked him if he was nervous about coaching in his first Stanley Cup final, and he said: "Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?"

Now, a guy who's not afraid to deliver a quote like that in this age of coaches terrified to say anything that might reveal they're human, is my kind of guy, and if he can think that thought about Parton, he'll be a compliant candidate for my An Informal Moment With column where my last question is always: "Where was the most unusual place you ever had sex?"

Before that question, he will have answered all my other questions that have nothing to do with the hockey John Tortorella, but the non-hockey John Tortorella: His first car, first girl he ever loved, his most sentimental possession, his everyday likes and dislikes, that kind of stuff.

And since he'll welcome the chance to talk about something other than hockey with the same stupid questions, he'll be even more thrilled to show his thoughts are not all hockey one-dimensional when I ask him whether he thinks we should blow up Iran before it blows us up.

'WHO ARE YOU?'

I arrive at Scotiabank Place where Senators PR czar Phil Legault says a pass for the Lightning's practice will be at Gate 3 awaiting me. Gate 3, no pass.

A woman at the desk takes me to an office where another woman gives me a pass for Gate 3. The pass is hot pink. It hangs around the neck and goes beautifully with my maroon sweater. I'm thinking of making it a permanent fashion statement for when I wear my maroon sweater.

"Who are you?" snaps a scowly-faced guy stopping me at the open door of the Lightning dressing room. "I'm here to talk to John Tortorella," I tell him.

"Who are you with?" he asks. "Ottawa Sun," I answer.

"You can't talk to him, he's in his office down the hall," says scowly face.

"I'll talk to him there," I say. "No," equivocates scowly face. "He'll speak to reporters in the interview room after practice, that's it -- and I'll have to ask you to leave this area."

I leave the area for the media room where I find Senators play-by-play broadcaster Dean Brown and Boo Boo Garrioch, my Sun colleague.

Boo Boo is hunkered over his laptop, typing. Boo Boo is always typing. Day and night, Boo Boo is typing. Even in his sleep, Boo Boo is typing. When he's in his coffin, Boo Boo will be typing.

I tell Garrioch and Brown what I'm up to, and, since they know Tortorella better than I do, they boost my confidence. "You'll never get him one-on-one, he won't do it," says Brown. "He won't do it," says Garrioch, typing. "Then I'll phone him at the hotel later," I say. "He still won't do it," says Brown. "Then I'll show up at the hotel," I counter. "You won't get him," says Garrioch, typing.

'STAND BY THE DOOR'

Brown gives me a tip. "After he finishes with all the reporters, he leaves by the door next to where he sits. If you stand by the door at the other end and leave when he does, you might be able to grab him in the hall for a couple of minutes as he's heading for his office."

Couple of minutes? Not ideal, but I decide to take the chance. Tortorella at his press conference is upbeat and friendly. When he says about his goalie, John Grahame, who drives him nuts, "I really do like the sonofabitch," I'm thinking, yep, the Tort's my kind of guy, this is going to work.

He ends the press conference, skips out the door, I intercept him in the hall one-on-one. He smiles. He's friendly. He pauses. "No. I don't do that personal stuff. I never have. No, I can't do it over the phone. I'm sorry. I'm concentrating on hockey. Sorry. Gotta go." He bolts down the hall.

A sympathetic face approaches me. Bill Wickett, Lightning PR guy. "He just doesn't give those kind of interviews. Even in the off-season, he doesn't. He keeps his personal life private."

Damn.

Hey, John, listen, if you're reading this, give me a quick call. I'll ask you only one question and it won't be personal. But I'm curious, too. Did you ever find out if she sleeps on her back?

earl.mcrae@ott.sunpub.com


Photos