This is Part I of a two-part series examining the two sides of new Flyers head coach John Tortorella. This piece will focus on his long list of public blowups and the perception that he is a hothead with whom the media and players don’t get along. Part II, which will be published Thursday, will look at the less-talked about side of Tortorella, one of a coach who players revere and will sacrifice and do anything for.
John Tortorella has always been fiery, and, occasionally, the dragon comes out.
Over the course of a 33-year coaching career, the flames have caused more than $162,000 worth of damages in the form of 12 fines and three suspensions. Just as Tortorella has become known for being a master motivator of players, he’s also become infamous for his blowups.
Some see it as passion. Chris Drury, a former captain of his with the New York Rangers, said when a coach loves the game like that, it rubs off on his players. Others see it as tyranny. Former Ranger Sean Avery, whose NHL career ended under Tortorella, ripped the coach in his 2017 book, Ice Capades: A Memoir Of Fast Living And Tough Hockey.
Tortorella has never hid who he is over the years, although he’s often been forced to apologize when he’s gone too far. As he held his first news conference as the newly minted Flyers coach, he said he’s learned not to be so controlling and has gained new perspective from his time as a broadcaster. However, he’s also said some of his past incidents have been blown out of proportion.
“It’s something people like talking about because I think you see things on the screen sometimes as far as my interactions with some players,” Tortorella said. “I feel very confident. If you talk to some of the players people think I ran out, I’m very confident you’d have a very interesting answer to your question.”
Referees, players (both his and opposing), opposing coaches, media, and even fans have been on the other end of Tortorella’s wrath. Here’s a look back at the biggest flashpoints and controversies from his career:
Fights and feuds
On April 24, 2009, Tortorella reached his limit and decided to drop the gloves — with the fans.
After being heckled by Washington Capitals fans during the 2009 playoffs, Tortorella alerted security. But when he determined they hadn’t done enough, he turned around and tossed a water bottle over the glass at one of the fans but missed and hit a woman instead. One of the fans then poured a beverage on him, so he took a hockey stick and tried to spear the fans through a space between the glass.
Tortorella was suspended one game and later apologized, saying his actions were an embarrassment and a distraction.
That wasn’t the only time Tortorella took the fight off the ice. Five years later, cameras caught Tortorella trying to storm the Calgary Flames dressing room after the first period of a Flames-Vancouver Canucks game. He was unhappy that Flames coach Bob Hartley had started his enforcers.
Tortorella responded by putting his big line out there and seconds after puck drop, all 10 skaters had dropped the gloves.
The incident led to Tortorella’s biggest suspension — 15 days without contact with the team. After that, he stuck to verbal punches at Hartley, later calling him an “embarrassment.”
Tortorella’s other suspension (three games) came in 1995 as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres when he tried to pull a heckler out of the stands.
Shots at the media, through the media, and as the media
Tortorella also has waged several public battles through interviews and news conferences. Whenever he felt strongly about something, he never minced words.
Avery was a common target and felt Tortorella’s ire before Tortorella became his coach. While working for TSN as an analyst, Tortorella called Avery an embarrassment to himself, his organization, his teammates, and the league. After retiring as a player after four seasons under Tortorella, Avery fired back in his book, saying that all the players used to laugh at Tortorella and despised him.
While Avery pushed back the hardest, other players have take more subtle shots at Tortorella for his words and actions.
Then-Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said Tortorella’s decision to bench him for the 2014 Heritage Classic played a part in him requesting a trade. Former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie John Grahame also responded to Tortorella’s criticisms following a poor stretch in the 2006 playoffs.
Tortorella famously ripped Grahame after he had allowed four goals on 17 shots against the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s deflating to see sixteen shots and four of them in the net, let’s call a spade a spade. He’s trying like hell, [but] we need [an] occasional save,” Tortorella said. “Four goals in sixteen shots. … I’m really tired of the 25-percent rule.”
Florida Panthers forward Anthony Duclair also knows what it’s like to be the target of Tortorella’s wrath. In 2019, Tortorella healthy scratched Duclair with the Columbus Blue Jackets and told reporters that he didn’t think Duclair knew “how to play hockey.” Ten months later, Duclair, then with Ottawa, responded by scoring a hat trick against Tortorella’s Blue Jackets.
Tortorella has also had his fair share of run-ins with reporters. His feud with Larry Brooks is well-known, and he even was fined after telling Brooks to “get the [expletive] out of here.”
In 2021, Tortorella joined the media as an ESPN analyst. He made waves there as well, especially when he questioned whether Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras’ lacrosse-style assist against the Buffalo Sabres in December was good for the game of hockey.
Putting money where his mouth is
Tortorella’s criticism of officiating usually has been the cause of his $162,000 in career fines paid. He was fined $1,000 in 2002, $1,000 in 2005, $10,000 in 2007, $10,000 in 2011, $30,000 after the 2012 at the Winter Classic in Philadelphia, $10,000 in 2013, and $20,000 in 2019, for berating refs and hinting at conspiracy.
He’s also been fined for for a variety of other reasons. He lost $10,000 in 2007 for cursing at Brooks, $20,000 in 2012 for insulting the Pittsburgh Penguins, $15,000 in 2018 for cursing when talking about former player Jack Johnson, and $25,000 in 2020 for being difficult with the media after being warned by the league.
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The only time Tortorella has been fined for something that happened during a game was in 2009 when he was fined $10,000 for his role in instigating a fight.
But he’s apologized after many of the incidents and, since spending a year as part of the media, says he’s gained new perspective.
Will the Flyers bring out his temper or will this be a brand new chapter for the fiery coach? Stay tuned.