Canucks coach John Tortorella suspended 15 days by NHL for fanning Flames (with video)
Why did team engage in brawl? Bench boss to have no contact with club for six games
Referee Kyle Rehman talks to an irate Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella, who is shouting at the Calgary Flames' bench during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 in Vancouver.
Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images
VANCOUVER — The day began with reporters, like so many forensic investigators, revisiting the scene of the crime at Rogers Arena: checking doorways, calculating camera angles, speculating how fast John Tortorella must have been travelling as the buzzer sounded to end the first period.
To get from his own bench, down the hall, cut through the Vancouver Canucks’ medical room, dodge the dentist's chair, and emerge through a connecting door within a few feet of the Calgary Flames’ dressing room before the visitors had even filed into their quarters ... that’s some serious foot speed, right there.
He’d have graded very high on the 40-yard sprint at the coaches’ combine. High also for desire and courage, though somewhat lower for self-control.
Alas, it will be a while before he gets a chance to reprise his feat, unless he just does it to keep in shape.
The National Hockey League suspended the Canucks’ head coach for 15 days (six games) on Monday for his ill-advised joust with Flames players and staff on Saturday night.
It may not be reasonable to suspend a coach for merely hoping to achieve the sort of mayhem all coaches routinely send their players out to perform (with the nudge-wink endorsement of the league), but the NHL expects its coaches to confine their nefarious activities to the bench and their own dressing room, with occasional side trips to watch video or address the media herd.
Oddly enough, charging at Calgary coach Bob “Who, Me?” Hartley with the intent to throttle him, though certainly a sound idea in the circumstances, was considered outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour.
So Torts will sit, and rightly so.
But here’s the real question about Saturday: why did the Canucks engage?
What did they have to prove to a bottom-feeding club that advertised its intentions the minute Hartley filled out his lineup card?
Yeah, I know what Tortorella said. He wasn’t going to put out his skill guys to get murdered by the Brian McGrattans and Kevin Westgarths, so he started his own fourth line, with tough guys Tom Sestito and Dale Weise and 6-foot-6 rookie Kellan Lain.
To paraphrase Sestito, “Torts said they were starting their idiots so we had to, too.
“He walked into the room and said he didn't want to put us in this situation but didn't really have a choice. I definitely wasn’t going to have a choice. I knew McGrattan was going to drop his stuff. When I saw Westgarth taking the faceoff I knew everyone was going. If you look at the tape, you can see he doesn’t even go for the puck, he already had his gloves off, so I think everybody was fighting no matter what.”
But ... why did it have to be either/or? First line or fourth?
OK, so it’s a manhood issue when the visiting team starts its goon line. The Code, a tome with so many chapters it makes War And Peace look like a Twitter entry, demands a response.
“We don’t like to see our players be put in harm’s way. The game’s a violent game as it is, I don’t think as coaches we need to manufacture it,” said assistant coach Mike Sullivan, who will probably be handling the bench duties while his boss is on the shelf.
But is it truly not permissible to send out, say, the third line with instructions to ignore the muscle-heads on the other side of centre and assume the fetal position if attacked, and simply attempt to play hockey?
“There’s two ways to go about it,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “We just watched a clip, actually on YouTube of (Canuck defenceman) Dan Hamhuis in 2004 when Nashville started their somewhat-skill guys vs. Calgary who had five of their goons on the ice, and they just all beat the crap out of them, so ... who knows if their guys would have had the same reaction if they’d seen the (Sedin) twins coming over the bench? But you can’t put those guys in that situation.”
Bieksa actually tried to defuse the inevitable, stepping in front of Lain and waving the rookie away, and taking the opening faceoff against Westgarth.
“At first I just thought the two big boys (Sestito and McGrattan) would go at it, and that would be it,” he said. “Then I saw Westgarth talking to Kellan, and ... I didn’t feel it was fair for him to fight Westgarth, being his first game, flying his parents across — I’m sure his mom didn’t like that — it just didn’t seem like it was a fair fight, so I tried to get in the way of that.”
To no avail. Eight of the 10 starting skaters got tossed. Lain played two seconds of his first NHL game.
“I’m not going to put 100 per cent blame on (the Flames), because we could always just stand there and take the penalty, take the punch to the face, but unless you’re in it, it’s a hard situation,” Bieksa said. “You can say that you’re just going to stand there and take it, but once you see five guys that want to fight coming after you ...
“It was just clear, when you see (Calgary’s) Blair Jones asking a guy to fight — and he’s afraid of his own shadow — you see (Ladislav) Smid and a couple of those guys just looking for it, it’s hard to say no.”
Tortorella’s decision to respond with his fourth line, which he discussed with his assistants before he wrote the names on the lineup card, was popular in the Canucks’ room — and so was the coach’s foray behind enemy lines between periods. Despite Tortorella’s harping on the need for discipline, his own lack of it didn’t seem to bother his players.
“I don’t know how this embarrasses the organization,” Bieksa said. “I think you respect a coach more when you see that he has your back, and see how much he cares, that we’re not just pawns out there, we’re not just guys he’s sticking out there to fight, he cares that we had to go through that.”
And the brawl? Tsk, tsk.
“That was obviously not our intention. It was their intention,” Bieksa said. “They won’t admit it, and I don’t really care either way, but I loved it. I thought it was a blast. I just wish I could have played the rest of the game.
“The reaction around the league I think was that it was pretty entertaining. You don’t want too many of them, it’s not the best image for the league, but every once in a while ... the fans enjoyed it.”
Yep. Hard to deny it.
The old Conn Smythe line from 60 years ago still resonates:
“We’ve got to stamp out that kind of thing, or people are going to keep on buying tickets.”
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