Putting Johnny on the spot ...
Canucks coach Tortorella shares thoughts on sleep doctors, dogs, young players and anti-meltdown secrets
With his wife Christine and their four dogs, new Canucks coach John Tortorella is on his way to Vancouver. Sun hockey writer Brad Ziemer caught up with him Wednesday somewhere deep in the woods in Wisconsin. Their telephone conversation follows, with Tortorella’s comments on his latest discussion with Roberto Luongo, his disappointment about being left off the U.S. Olympic coaching staff, the need for the Canucks to get younger, and much more:
Q: I think most coaches usually use the summer to decompress. How has the fact you are coaching a new team and have to move across the continent changed your summer?
A: It has been a lot busier. Even before getting the new job, getting fired is always tough to take. You try to regroup, assess and now we are in the process of going coast to coast here. It has been very busy. There hasn’t been a lot of decompressing, that’s for sure.
Q: Are you at the point yet where you are counting the days until training camp?
A: I am ready to go. I kind of turned the page last week. My wife is telling me not to, but we have done a lot of work the past couple of weeks getting our training camp schedule straightened out. There were a number of different things I had to do in Vancouver versus New York where I had my own rink and facility. It’s a little bit different there, with UBC and all that. You turn your mind to it and I am just ready to go. I’m done with all the other stuff. It’s about gearing up for the season.
Q: How much time have you and your wife actually spent in Vancouver this summer. And have you found a home that will accommodate your dogs?
A: That was the most important thing (laughing), getting the four dogs settled. My wife has not even been there. I have been there for probably a total of eight or nine days on different trips. We are going to buy a house in Point Roberts and I think we close on the 29th. We’ll be there by the end of the month. We’re in Wisconsin now so we are kind of halfway. My wife is from Minneapolis so we have a place out in the woods here in Wisconsin.
Q: There has obviously been lots of talk here about Roberto Luongo and his state of mind. How much have you talked to him this summer and what can you tell us about those conversations?
A: I don’t want to get into specifics, but I have talked to Roberto four times. In fact, I just talked to him yesterday. I’ll tell you, from talking with him he has told me he is working very hard as far as conditioning and getting ready for this season. He knows there is a lot of talk and probably a lot of questions coming his way with how it all unfolded here. I think he’s prepared for that and the bottom line is he told me “I just want to play.” I think that is the most important thing, if there is some conflict or you are unhappy about certain things, the bottom line is and he understands it, is that he is playing for his teammates. Those are the most important people. I have done a lot of talking to people who have coached him and know him and there is just tremendous support for what kind of pro he is. You don’t have to be happy about a lot of different things. You can be really happy about this, unhappy about that, as long as you are ready to play. I think he gets that. So I am really excited about where he is mentally.
Q: You were part of the U.S. coaching staff at the Winter Olympics here in Vancouver in 2010. Are you disappointed you won’t be going to Sochi?
A: I am disappointed. (Team USA GM) David Poile called me before they announced Danny (Bylsma). 2010 was a blast and I think Vancouver had a lot to do with that. It just worked out so well, U.S.-Canada in that building. How (can) you not want to go back? I have done the world championships, the Olympics. Certainly you want to stay involved in it. But I don’t make that call and they do and we move on from there.
Q: When you were introduced here as coach, you acknowledged the need to have a more positive relationship with the media. It probably won’t surprise you that some are skeptical and suggest we’ll see that dark side the first time the team struggles. How do you respond?
A: You probably have a right to be skeptical. I don’t hide from my history. I think there are some good things I have done with my intensity and how I have handled things. And there have been a number — as long as my arm — of stupid things I have done. I get that. I will put it to you this way: I am really cognizant that I need to change there. Am I going to be this wonderful, smiling guy every day? Fat chance. It’s not going to happen. But I still need to get an in-between there of simply dismissing and not wanting to be bothered with you versus having dinner with you every night. I need to find something there. There is no question there are going to be times where you say, “there he is.” But I hope there are fewer and I am going to continue to work at that. It’s easy for me to say in the summer when we haven’t lost a game, but I am really going to work at that.”
Q: Have you and (New York Post reporter) Larry Brooks talked since you left the Rangers.
A: No — and we won’t.
Q: You mentioned at your news conference here that you and Alain Vigneault had chatted regularly? Have you talked recently?
A: Since we both signed with our new team we have not talked. I figured I’d leave him alone and he’s probably thinking the same thing. But when we did talk, I guess my question to him and his to me was just how it works, like him with Glen (Sather) and me with Mike (Gillis) and all the people involved in it and the mechanics of it. And really, both parties had positive things to say. I loved it in New York. I didn’t want to get fired out of there. And I think he felt the same way here. He told me it was a first-class organization. We talked a little bit about players, but mostly about the mechanics, especially the manager and coach dynamic.
Q: I am sure you have pored over the schedule. There is a lot of early travel, including a seven-game trip to some familiar (Eastern) spots for you. What are your impressions of the schedule?
A: I don’t mind a long trip early in the year in this situation where there is a new coaching staff. I think sometimes it’s nice to get away and be with one another. One thing I have found, and we have pored over this five or six times since we have got this, is when to leave after games. I am not used to it. I am spoiled rotten by the last five years in New York as far as the amount of time you are not in your own bed. I think a huge point in my learning curve moving out West is the recovery of athletes. It’s a much different type of schedule. We have spent a lot of time with it and hopefully we are going to get it right so our athletes stay as fresh as they can.
Q: Has Mike Gillis hooked you up with the sleep doctor yet?
A: We have had a lot of talks and I meet with him I believe on the 6th of September and I am interested. This is what I like about Mike. He thinks out of the box. I am a gut guy as a coach, but I also need to get out of that Neanderthal stage as far as the science of the game. I think that is what Mike is trying to do. He is trying to find an edge and I am all for it.
Q: What kind of training camp and pre-season can the players expect?
A: It will be a strenuous camp. Some of the testing we do, it’s not only physical, it’s mental. Some people get the wrong idea, that we’re just trying to kick the hell out of them, but it really isn’t. We just feel that it is one of the things you can control as a team, your conditioning level. I think the higher the level, then you are not chasing the game, it’s coming to you. So there’s no question we have it set up those first four or five days there is going to be quite a bit of conditioning. There will be some little tests you go through without even knowing you are going through them to see that you don’t give in. It’s a mindset. We are going to go about our business that way.
Q: Are you satisfied there is going to be healthy competition for jobs at camp? And when you were here accepting the job you talked about needing some more “bite” in the lineup. Have you got it?
A: I don’t know. I need to be honest with you. I need to get with the bodies. I can ask all the questions, which I have done, and I have gone through the lineup and watched tape. There’s no question for me, and it’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation, we want to make plays, we want to be offensive — I want to make sure you understand that — we also have to be fighting for the puck on a more consistent level. And in the six, seven, eight games that I watched I don’t see it. That is a mindset, I don’t think it is about bringing in a bunch of guys that are going to fight. It’s more about an overall attitude about how we play. The team looked like it was pretty easy to play against at times in the tapes I watched.
And there’s no question when I look at the roster we need to get younger. I am going to give the kids as long a shot as I possibly can. I want kids in the lineup. I hope they take other people’s jobs. It’s certainly not going to be given to them because we don’t want to hurt the kids either. We need to be smart about our decision-making and not force-feed. But I watched in New York, we brought kids in, the Stepans, the Hagelins, McDonagh coming in, it changed the whole dynamic there and we have to be very careful in Vancouver. It’s an older team and we need to get younger pretty quickly.
Q: You talked earlier about your discussions with Roberto. Have you talked with many of the other players and do you plan one-on-one meetings with most players?
A: I have had a number of conversations with players this summer. I talked to Henrik. I talked to Kassian, Roberto, Kesler. I saw Higgins and Garrison at the news conference. I think there will be a lot of one-on-ones for me this year just to help them understand me a little bit. Maybe not even talking about hockey. I think the onus needs to be on me to extend myself so they understand me. A lot of people say it takes a bit of time to get to know me. I need to fast-forward that.
Q: Have you and your wife determined what kind of work your charity foundation will doing in the Vancouver area?
A: We are definitely going to be involved in animal welfare. We have had contact with a number of different organizations there. My wife, who is really the driving force behind our foundation, is really involved with children. Children’s music, children’s books, children’s education. A lot of it has to do with self-esteem, journals and all sorts of things. We just want to help and I think that is one of the things about having a public job and your face being out there. It opens up doors and doors that you may not otherwise have open to you, to see where other people are at in life. So we’re diving in. I went back to Vancouver earlier this summer and I didn’t have any hockey stuff on my desk, I had a bunch of things about animals. A lot of the work will be done by my wife because I just can’t lose my identity as far as the amount of work I have to do to start here with this team.
Q: Tell me briefly about your dogs. You have four of them and are they all rescue animals?
A: All rescue animals and no real purebreds. We have done a lot of DNA testing on them to find out exactly what they are. Four big dogs, four great dogs. Wherever we go, we don’t fly. We have a van, a conversion van that we bought and it’s like Jed Clampett and the Beverly Hillbillies going across the country. You’ll hear us wheeling in there towards the end of the month when we pull in with our van.
Q: Sorry for this question, I can’t resist. If you were a dog, what kind of dog would you be?
A: You set me up. I would be a mix because that is what we deal with. We have only been involved with rescue animals the past three or four years and as far as how many are being put down every day. There’s so much work to be done. I appreciate you asking because I enjoy talking about that.
Q: I wanted to ask you a general question about the interview process here with the Canucks. How involved was ownership and how different was the process from what you had experienced in other places?
A: It was very, very thorough, very different. The Aquilini family was there and were involved with questions. Mike, Laurence Gilman and there were a couple of other people there just kind of overseeing it to see if it was a match between me and the organization. I thought it was done tremendously and it was a great learning experience for me. It was lengthy and it covered a lot of topics. Not just the stuff on the ice and my philosophy, but obviously media relations, the province of British Columbia, everything. I learned quite a bit from it.
Q: The Canucks just announced that some coaches, players and management are heading to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii just before training camp for some community work and also some fishing. Ever caught a salmon?
A: I am a big fisherman but it is mostly in Florida with snook and redfish and I do a lot of bass fishing here at the lake I am at. I have never gone salmon fishing. All I know is we have got a 17-minute helicopter ride and I am going to need drugs for that.
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