New Philadelphia Flyers coach John Tortorella has a reputation.
It goes like this: He’s disliked by his players, he is impatient with youngsters, and he has a short shelf life.
Not true, say those who have played for him.
In a roundabout way, Flyers right winger Cam Atkinson campaigned for Tortorella, his coach in Columbus. Many other former players have also raved about the coach known as Torts.
Yes, he can get under players’ skin and, yes, he isn’t afraid to bench his top players if they aren’t performing up to expectations, but it’s because he cares and is trying to get the most out of everyone.
That’s the opinion of former Flyer Scott Hartnell, who played for Torts in Columbus.
“He’s a character. He’s demanding. Mentally, he’ll tear you down to nothing, then he’ll build (you and) everybody up. Like you’re a piece of the puzzle here and you’re a piece there,” Hartnell said recently on the Nasty Knuckles podcast.
‘One of my favorite coaches’
At one point, Hartnell called Tortorella a “maniac,” and seconds later said he was “one of my favorite coaches. I have a lot of respect for him — just the way he turned us around so quickly.”
Tortorella made Hartnell a healthy scratch one night, and the veteran left winger went into the coach’s office to discuss things.
“It was one of my first times getting scratched after 1,100 games or so, so I go to talk to him,” said Hartnell, now a Philadelphia Flyers analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. “We had it out a bit, and he said, ‘I appreciate you coming in here and talking to me like a man. There were a couple f-bombs and it was heated, and the next day he goes, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re going to get back in. This is your chance to prove to the guys how good of a pro you are.’
“I think I scored four goals over the next five games,” Hartnell added, smiling, “and he’s probably like, ‘I’m a great coach!’ ”
Here’s the link to my latest Broad St. Bullcast for @phillyhockeynow, talking about the Torts Effect on the @NHLFlyers, the possible acquisition of Alex DeBrincat, and much more. Enjoy!https://t.co/p6seijBcjh
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) June 22, 2022
“I’m sure you’ve heard it all, but Torts will be loved by his players in Philly,” Sestito said. “I played for a few of the top coaches in the NHL, and he is the best by far. You always will know where you stand with him.”
Alain Vigneault and Mike Sullivan, who is probably Tortorella’s best friend, were among Sestito’s other coaches.
Sestito, who retired four years ago, called Tortorella a “players’ coach” and someone he’d “run through a brick wall” if he was asked.
“His camps are rigorous. Very hard,” Sestito said Friday from his home in Rome, N.Y. “As a player, you go into camp and you’re probably hating him at that time, but once camp gets over and you start playing, he’s probably the coach who’s going to give you the most days off. And he doesn’t care if you’re a first-line guy or a fourth line guy. He treats everyone the same. Everybody has a role with him and you’ll know where you stand — and if you’re doing your part, you’re going to be on great terms with him.”
Tortorella, who turned 64 today, does not like morning skates and having the players put on their uniforms and skates twice in the same day. He is expected to leave it up to the Flyers players if they want to skate during the morning of a game.
When Sestito played for Tortorella in Vancouver, he remembers his former Columbus teammate, Derek Dorsett, asking about the coach.
“Torts get on you yet?” Dorsett asked.
“No, he’s been great,” Sestitio said.
A short time later, Sestito failed to clear the puck twice in one period. The big winger was no longer on Tortorella’s good side.
“We came in after the first intermission, and he’s like, ‘Tommy, if you can’t get the puck out of the zone, you’re going to go from four minutes (a night) to no minutes,” said Sestito, laughing at the memory. “Ever since then, I made sure I got the puck out.”
Sestito said the Flyers “obviously need to get some help with their roster, but I think he’s going to do great. The fans are are going to love him there. He speaks his mind, so I think the media will love him unless you get in a little tussle with him. He’s not afraid to give it back.”
Over the years, Sestito said, “I think he’s mellowed out a little. I still talk to him once in a while. He’s a very humble and very personable person. He likes to get to know the players, their families, and he’s real easy to talk to. Some coaches aren’t like that. They couldn’t care less about your family life or what you’ve got going on.
“He’s just a real genuine person; he’s got a good soul.”
Despite the reputation that has followed him.