Silent nights rare with Torts on board

 

After holiday breather, comical coach who lives under a rock readies team for second half of season

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella argues a call with referee Steve Kozari during a game earlier this season at Rogers Arena, while Tom Sestito, left, and Ryan Kesler, right, listen to the colourful conversation. The animated Torts has shown plenty of character since taking over as bench boss of the NHL squad.
 
 

Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella argues a call with referee Steve Kozari during a game earlier this season at Rogers Arena, while Tom Sestito, left, and Ryan Kesler, right, listen to the colourful conversation. The animated Torts has shown plenty of character since taking over as bench boss of the NHL squad.

Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press, Vancouver Sun

Next game Sunday vs. Calgary Flames 4:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Saddledome

SNET - P/TEAM 1040

The Vancouver Canucks officially hit the midpoint of their 2013-14 National Hockey League season on Monday but, let's face it, they are pretty much there now.

They've played 39 games, collected 50 points, won 11 games at home and 11 games on the road. They're fourth in the Pacific Division, sixth in the Western Conference, 14th in goals for and fifth in goals against. Their power play "sucks," sitting 24th, but their penalty killing leads the league.

The Canucks may also lead the league in days off. Resting players has been one of the main themes under new head coach John Tortorella, so it should be no surprise that he gave the boys four full days away from the rink. Practice resumes today at 11 a.m. with game action beginning anew Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in Calgary.

The season's first half did produce the usual assortment of surprises, not the least of which has been Tortorella himself. Coach Torts has shown plenty of character, rather than being one. Nary has there been a "get outta here, Brooksie" in his sessions with Vancouver hockey reporters, unless your cellphone happens to ring during one of his answers. He hasn't walked yet and here's betting he won't.

And who among us didn't giggle when Tortorella delivered his blunt assessment of that "damn" Twitter? "It's the most narcissistic thing I've ever seen," he declared while scribes raced to be the first to tweet his every word. "It's nothing but trouble to me. I think it's tremendous for charity work but not for: 'here I am, having a roast beef sandwich, saying hello to my fans.' That's just ridiculous."

Then there was the time he admitted he knew nothing about Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan after she appeared at the team's Dice and Ice gala fundraiser.

"I'm sorry, Sarah, I live under a rock," said a blushing Tortorella. "I'm sorry."

Seriously, who's writing his material? He's become the king of the quip and must-see TV. Here are a few other items worth noting from the Canucks' first half:

Best Mystery

By anyone's account, forward Alex Burrows is an integral member of the Canucks, a core player, ace penalty killer, clutch goal scorer - "he slayed the dragon!" - and winger most suited to skate alongside the Sedin twins. So how does that square with this season's results? Between his broken foot and fractured jaw, Burrows has appeared in only 17 games. The Canucks have won but six. They've lost seven in regulation, two in overtime and two in shootouts with him. Without him, the team is a stupendous 16-4-2. Here is further intrigue: the Canucks are 9-2-1 without supposedly key defenceman Alex Edler (suspension, knee injury). They are also 9-2-1 when both Burrows and Edler are out. Burrows doesn't have a goal this season and Edler is a team-worst minus-12. Are they locked in some sort of parallel universe? Or a Seinfeld "opposite" episode?

Best Santo Claus

Mike Santorelli could have been Pascal Pelletier or Benn Ferriero, a veteran player signed to provide leadership and scoring for the Canucks' new Utica Comets farm team. But from the first scrimmage in training camp, "Santo" proved he was no sleeper. Sure he had 20 goals in Florida three seasons ago but, locally, he might have been more famous for being Mark Santorelli's older brother. (Mark was WHL scoring champion in 2007-08 with the Chilliwack Bruins.) Mike is the gift that keeps on giving. He plays for a bargain-basement league minimum $550,000 and produces like a front-liner. His plus-14 leads the team and his 26 points ties him for third with Ryan Kesler. He has been deployed at centre and on right wing, has two overtime winners, plays both specialty teams and is 53.3 per cent on faceoffs, the latter mark best on the team.

If Santorelli keeps winning in the dot, he'll deserve to dot some "i"s on a nice, new contract. Merry Christmas, Santo Claus.

Best Laugh From Lou

The Canucks are all over the blooper goal map, both for and against. Remember Dan Hamhuis scoring a shortie on behalf of the Montreal Canadiens when he and Jason Garrison managed to manoeuvre the puck into Roberto Luongo's feet, tick-tacktoe and into the net? Or Jannik Hansen beating the Bruins' Tuukka Rask on a 185-foot dipping and diving knuckle puck, aided by a deflection off Zdeno Chara's stick? But our favourite was Joe Thornton's dump-in that hit a partition behind the net in San Jose, wiggled up the mesh like an earthworm on speed, hit Luongo's backside and tumbled into the cage. It counted as a shot on goal even though it was a shot into the corner.

Explained Bobby Lou: "It was a rim, first of all. It came off the boards funny, then it started climbing the net. Still no panic at this point. Once it got on top of the net I thought 'oh (crap), what's going on here?' I tried to put a glove on it but it kept going, and once it got over the crossbar, I was in an awkward position. It's going to make for a good tweet."

Happily for the Canucks, they won that night 4-2. It was truly a laughing matter. Tweet, tweet.

Best Booth Review

Left-winger David Booth has hardly been a great success story with the Canucks. Oft injured and mostly unproductive since arriving from Florida two years ago, he hasn't come close to justifying his $4.25-million cap hit. He has 10 points in 27 games, putting him behind 10 other Canucks, including grinder Brad Richardson, rookie defenceman Ryan Stanton and the notoriously low-scoring (until now) Chris Tanev.

Booth has been a healthy scratch this season. He has been sent to the minors on a conditioning stint. He has even taken a private skating lesson. And he has been the source for another memorable Tortorella quote. So, coach, whaddya think of Booth? "He's a weird dude," responded Tortorella.

Immediately realizing where that might go - like viral - Torts hastily added: "It's good to have weird dudes."

Then, of course, he had to further explain why weird dudes are good for hockey teams.

"Sometimes we have locker-rooms that are just blasé," he said. "You need personality. As you go through a long year, you need some things to happen and I'm sure he'll find a few things along the way for us."

Like, maybe, some consistency and some goals. Now that would be a happy new year.

epap@vancouversun.com Twitter.com/elliottpap

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella argues a call with referee Steve Kozari during a game earlier this season at Rogers Arena, while Tom Sestito, left, and Ryan Kesler, right, listen to the colourful conversation. The animated Torts has shown plenty of character since taking over as bench boss of the NHL squad.
 

Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella argues a call with referee Steve Kozari during a game earlier this season at Rogers Arena, while Tom Sestito, left, and Ryan Kesler, right, listen to the colourful conversation. The animated Torts has shown plenty of character since taking over as bench boss of the NHL squad.

Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press, Vancouver Sun

 
Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella argues a call with referee Steve Kozari during a game earlier this season at Rogers Arena, while Tom Sestito, left, and Ryan Kesler, right, listen to the colourful conversation. The animated Torts has shown plenty of character since taking over as bench boss of the NHL squad.
Mike Santorelli has been the gift that keeps on giving for the Canucks.
David Booth, right, described as a 'weird dude' by his coach, celebrates after scoring a goal against the Boston Bruins earlier this month at Rogers Arena.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Will the Canadiens make it out of the first round?
 
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