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Tortorella focused on the game, not the sentimentality of returning to Columbus

Tortorella focused on the game, not the sentimentality of returning to Columbus

FORHEES, NJ — John Tortorella made it very clear that he is not interested in talking about the past.

The Philadelphia Flyers coach enjoyed his six seasons in the same role with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it won’t be long before he returns to Nationwide Arena when the Flyers play the Blue Jackets on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; BSOH, NBCSP, ESPN+). , SN NOW).

“I’m going back there to coach a hockey team,” Tortorella said Wednesday. “I have a lot of friends there, it’s a great place. But I’m going to go back with the Flyers coach and try to win.”

It will be his first game in Columbus since stepping down as coach on May 10, 2021, and while he doesn’t much like sentimentality, there’s no doubt he had a positive impact on the Columbus hockey community.

“I think [the fans] he’s going to appreciate him and what he did for the organization and the community and all of that,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “So I think he’s going to get a warm welcome.”

Tortorella is the winningest coach in Blue Jackets history with a record of 227-166-54. They reached the Stanley Cup playoffs four times, and in 2019 Columbus won its first postseason series, a four-game sweep of the Presidents Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. He also won the Jack Adams Award for NHL Coach of the Year in 2016-17 after leading the Blue Jackets to a career-high 108 points (50-24-8).

He worked as an analyst for ESPN last season.

“He’s one of the main reasons we had the success we had in his six years as coach,” the Flyers forward said. Cam Atkinson, who played six seasons under Tortorella with the Blue Jackets. “And obviously it wasn’t an overnight thing, but it got us all thinking the same way and believing in each other. We started winning games and making the playoffs four or five back-to-back years. He’s the winningest coach in Blue Jackets history so far and I think it’s going to be a big night for him.”

The biggest impact Tortorella had with the Blue Jackets was on the culture and building a level of play. Before his arrival, Columbus had reached the playoffs twice in 14 seasons.

“As soon as he came in, he changed the culture from day one,” Atkinson said. “We started to build that mentality brick by brick. He weeded out the guys who didn’t want to be there, who didn’t want to work hard. He didn’t care who you were and how much money you made. Or how old or young you were. He just demanded effort and he took it out on his best players and all the players.

“Every team wants to win the Stanley Cup, but just to make the playoffs and earn our respect in the league that every time you play the Blue Jackets would be a tough game. He built that culture in the six years he was there . just with their core guys and luckily for me, I was part of that group.”

Tortorella said he couldn’t compare the building effort in Columbus to his time so far in Philadelphia, which started 7-3-2.

“I look at this as we’re just trying to go about our business every day trying to define a standard and become that,” he said. “I’m not going to put it on any other team I’ve coached. It’s a completely different type of situation, different city, different situations. So this is its own entity as far as I’m concerned.”

The Flyers said they can see similar shots on the Blue Jackets teams that Tortorella coached.

“Playing with Columbus all these years, they were such a tough team to play against and you knew exactly what they were and how hard they would work when you played them,” he added. Scott Laughton said “I think we’re trying to build that identity.”

Tortorella, whose 680 wins in 20 seasons as coach of the Lightning, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, Blue Jackets and Flyers are the most by an American-born coach, built that identity in Columbus, and fans will have the opportunity to thank you for this on Thursday.

If Tortorella wants attention or not.

“I know ‘Torts’ on a more personal level and he’s not a softie by any means, but he’s … an emotional guy,” Atkinson said. “I’m sure he’s looking forward to finishing it. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t like to get any recognition, but he deserves it. It’s going to be a little emotional for sure.”





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