Tortorella says Kubina needed tough love

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

TAMPA, Fla. -- John Tortorella makes no apologies for stripping the "A" from Pavel Kubina's Tampa Bay Lightning jersey a number of years ago.

In the opinion of the Lightning head coach, it was for Kubina's own good.

"For this coaching staff, when we took over about four years ago, I did it because I had some major problems with the way he was competing at the time," Tortorella said yesterday.

"I was tough on him and for a while he thought it was a personal attack. But I eventually saw him grow up. Eventually he understood that it wasn't personal; that I did it to make him the player I thought he could be.

"I think he has tougher skin now, and he's going to need that tougher skin playing in the spotlight of Toronto. Obviously he became a mainstay here. I've always said you can have skill and size but when you are a defenceman, it always takes time."

After countless bag skating sessions, Kubina finally helped the Lightning bring a Stanley Cup to Florida's west coast in 2004. That success, coupled with Kubina's improvement, led the Maple Leafs to reward him with a four-year, $20-million US contract over the summer.

Tortorella didn't want to see him go but the team had no choice, since more than half of its $43.6-million salary cap was dedicated to just four players -- Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle.

Listening to Kubina talk about his former coach, you get the impression he's not about to send Tortorella any Christmas cards next month.

"He was the same on everyone," Kubina said. "He's going to push you hard. Sometimes he was hard on me. He wanted me to be a better player. That's the way he coaches the team."

Kubina had 209 points in 531 games for Tampa Bay. All the while he played host to underpriviledged kids in a suite at the St. Petes Times Forum.

One of his claims to fame was hitting New Jersey Devils defenceman Scott Stevens in the ear with a shot in 2003. He was quite upset when Martin Brodeur and other Devils accused him of doing it on purpose the following day.

Kubina would have the last laugh a year later by helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup.

"He was a shot-blocking machine for us, especially in our Cup run," Lightning forward Brad Richards said. "He was a real wall.

"He's a great guy."


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