Canucks players can expect dressing-room visits from ‘fair, honest’ John Tortorella
Chris Higgins gives his teammates the lowdown on their new coach
Vancouver Canucks forwards Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins (in the background) listen as their new head coach John Tortorella answer a reporter’s question on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at his introductory news conference at Rogers Arena.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, PNG
VANCOUVER — Chris Higgins has been a popular guy with his Vancouver Canucks teammates the past few days.
It seems everyone wants to talk to him.
As soon as word got out a few days ago that John Tortorella was going to be the team's new head coach, inquiring minds wanted to know what he's really like.
Higgins, who played part of one season under Tortorella as a member of the New York Rangers, told them the fiery coach comes pretty much as advertised.
For starters, there won't be many touchy-feely individual meetings between player and coach.
"He is very open, he's not a guy that has too many one-on-one meetings," Higgins said Tuesday after Tortorella was officially introduced as the team's new coach. "If he is going to talk about a player or about a player's game everyone in the room is going to be there to listen, too."
But Higgins emphasized that Tortorella is fair and honest and suggested that everything he does, including the occasional screaming, is done with the intent of improving the team.
He also said Canucks players can expect to see much more of Tortorella inside the dressing room than his predecessor, Alain Vigneault.
"He knows the way (into the dressing room)," Higgins said with a smile. "He has got a different approach than most coaches. The thing I took away most about him is that he cares a lot. Some guys respond well, some guys don't to the way he approaches his team, but at the end of the day he is very fair and he is very honest."
Higgins said he has been on the receiving end of a Tortorella dressing-room rant and suggested it happens to almost everyone.
"Oh yeah, for sure," he said. "If you are on his team you are going to get it. You have to understand that sometimes that's how he tries to get the message across, but like I said at the end of the day he just wants you to be a better player."
Higgins knows he will have something to prove to his new boss. He struggled under Tortorella, registering just 15 points in 55 games before being traded late in the 2009-10 season to the Calgary Flames.
Higgins, a New York native, blamed his paltry production during his brief stint with the Rangers on putting too much pressure on himself to play well in front of family and friends.
"I don't think he was in any way the reason why I had such a poor year that year," Higgins said. "If anything he helped me get through a tough time in my career. He comes as advertised, he's very fair and very honest and I think he treats his players the right way. if you are competing and you want to win he is going to play you as much as you want.
"He wants your compete level to be 100 per cent at all times on the ice. He wants his best players to be his best players night after night and a lot of pressure falls on them. The main thing he wants out of all his players is their compete be as high as it can be."
Higgins, Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison and team captain Henrik Sedin were interested observers at Tuesday's news conference at Rogers Arena to introduce Tortorella as their new coach.
They heard Tortorella say more than once that he planned to ask for more out of his players.
"There is no question, I am going to push the players," Tortorella said. "That is a big part of coaching and I am going to push them as individuals and also to create a team concept."
Henrik Sedin doesn't anticipate that will be a problem.
"You are going to be held accountable if you are not playing the way you can and I think that's good," Sedin said.
Tortorella also suggested Henrik and Daniel Sedin will be asked to kill penalties, something they did very little of under Vigneault.
"That's something we have asked for all along," Henrik said. "We did it for Crow (Marc Crawford) for a year, really enjoyed it, did it at the word championships back in Sweden. To be a great player in this league you have to be put in those spots and I think it is going to help us grow as players. I am looking forward to it, but again we are going to have to perform in those situations."
Henrik and his brother and a few of the other Canucks have some experience playing under a highly emotional coach like Tortorella. Crawford was known to do his share of screaming during his tenure with the Canucks.
"I think it's going to be really different for a lot of guys," Henrik said. "We were here when Crawford was here … but there are going to be a lot of guys where this is their second coach and the first one that is going to have this way of dealing with things. As a player you want honesty. I don't think it matters how it is put towards you, if you come in and yell and scream or you do it in other ways. If it makes sense, then I don't see it as a problem."
Garrison joked that he also has some experience playing for an emotional coach who occasionally loses it.
"(Florida coach) Kevin Dineen, he had some times when he was really lovely," Garrison said. "It is what it is. It's passion."
General manager Mike Gillis said he talked with several of his players about Tortorella before hiring him.
"I spoke to our players and asked them how they felt about a different voice and a different coaching style and they and everyone else I spoke to who played for John were incredibly supportive, 100 per cent supportive in fact," Gillis said. "And I felt comfortable in the responses I got from our players."
So comfortable that Tortorella got a five-year contract from the Canucks.
"In this circumstance we felt it was appropriate," Gillis said. "We wanted to make sure that John had the full support of our organization going forward and there wasn't any sort of opportunity to question our commitment to him."
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun