John Tortorella is the new coach of the Flyers, but 10 years ago that would have seemed like a betrayal. And 10 years before that, he wasn’t exactly a fan favorite, either.
On Jan. 2, 2012, the Flyers faced Tortorella and the New York Rangers in the Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. Following a 3-2 Rangers victory over the Orange and Black, Tortorella made some pointed comments about the officiating in the game.
“I’m not sure if NBC got together with the refs and wanted to turn this into an overtime game,” Tortorella said. “For two good referees, I thought that game was reffed horribly. I’m not sure if they had meetings about that or what.”
Tortorella was frustrated after a last-minute penalty shot was awarded to the Flyers’ Danny Brière, now a special assistant to general manager Chuck Fletcher. Tortorella was fined $30,000 and released an apology, a hefty price, especially given Brière didn’t score. He and the Rangers also elected not to shake hands with the Flyers following the game.
This came 10 years after Tortorella, then coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was fined $1,000, also for publicly criticizing the officiating, following a 4-2 defeat to the Flyers on March 8, 2002.
A thorn in the Flyers’ side
In addition to the dramatics, things have tended to go poorly for the Flyers when Tortorella is behind the opposing bench. As the coach of the Lightning, the Rangers, the Vancouver Canucks and the Columbus Blue Jackets, Tortorella has amassed a regular-season record of 44 wins, 26 losses, two ties and four overtime losses against the Flyers.
Tortorella and the Ken Hitchock-coached Flyers also squared off in the 2004 Eastern Conference finals, a tightly contested series that ultimately went seven games. Across the seven games, the Flyers scored a total of 19 goals while the Lightning scored 21.
The series was not short on Tortorella controversy either, as he famously ripped Hitchcock publicly ahead of Game 3. Hitchcock had words for a Lightning player in Game 2 over Tampa Bay’s constant slashing.
“He’s not in the battle of two quality teams here,” Tortorella said. “He should shut his yap. It’s not about him. We understand how Philly works as far as the dialogue that goes on with all this stuff. But when it comes from a coach to an opposing player, it’s disrespectful and it’s wrong. It’s gutless. That’s got to stop. Park your ego and shove it in your pocket. It’s wrong and it’s chicken [expletive].”
Tortorella also said that he expected then-Flyers general manager Bob Clarke to do some whining during the series. Clarke responded by calling Tortorella “a pathetic little man” and saying: “He’ll find somebody to blame this time, though, the Great Tortellini. There’s no mirrors in his house. It’s always somebody else’s fault.”
Tortorella would go on to get the last laugh in Game 7, as Lightning winger Fredrik Modin’s second-period goal past Robert Esche held up as Tampa Bay won, 2-1.. They would go on to win the Stanley Cup, defeating the Calgary Flames in seven games. Former Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko scored both goals in the decisive Game 7 of the Cup Final.
The Flyers might prefer to have Tortorella behind them instead of on the bench next to them.
He already hates the rival Penguins
Despite there being no love lost between the sides due to Tortorella’s history with the Flyers, they do have things to bond over. He’s a tough coach who expects his team to work hard, just like the fans demand. He’s also not scared to share his displeasure, similar to Philadelphians. Oh, and he hates Pittsburgh.
Tortorella’s grievances against the Penguins have been well documented. On two occasions, a year apart, he called the organization the “whiniest” and the most “arrogant” in the league. He even called out their two star players, although he refrained from explicitly saying the names of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
After an injury to then-Rangers forward Derek Stepan following a hit from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik in 2012, Tortorella lashed back with one of his most viral postgame tirades.
“It’s a cheap, dirty hit. I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there,” Tortorella said. “I wonder what would happen. ... It’s ridiculous. But they’ll whine about something else over there, won’t they, starting with their two [expletive] stars.”
While it might take Flyers fans some time to get used to Tortorella, it seems safe to say that the “[Expletive] you, Crosby” chants at Wells Fargo Center during every Flyers-Pens game won’t bother him in the slightest.