The passion was there without the arrogance. Only time will tell if John Tortorella was being sincere or if he was simply on his best behaviour Tuesday when being introduced as the new head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
By Jim Morris, special to CBC Sports
VANCOUVER -- The passion was there without the arrogance.
Tortorella understands why his reputation as being volatile, profane and combative is preceding him to Vancouver. In his first formal news conference with the local media, Tortorella said he's learned from the past.
"Have I made mistakes? Absolutely," Tortorella said. "I make my own bed in this type of situation with the perception of myself in the media.
"I know how important it is with this job here, especially in this city and this province. I am dedicated to make that work. I realize what's happened with me. I am going to work at that to cultivate a relationship with all of you."
Tortorella takes over a talented but aging Canuck team that has underachieved in the playoffs. Vancouver has won the Northwest Division title six of the last seven years and had the best record in the NHL for two consecutive years. But since losing Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final to Boston, the Canucks have won just one of nine playoff games.
"It's an organization that is winning," Tortorella said. "It's just trying to get to that next level.
"We need more bite. I am going to push the players. I am going to push them as individuals and also to create a team concept. That's how I am going about it."
Tortorella fired by Rangers
Tortorella was fired by the New York Rangers May 29 after losing to Boston in the second round of the playoffs. That caused him to "crawl into a hole a little bit. You re-assess yourself."
Ironically, Tortorella was replaced by Alain Vigneault, who was fired by the Canucks May 22 after Vancouver was swept from the first round of this year's playoffs by the San Jose Sharks.
"I talked to Alain about the situation here," Tortorella said. "Yes, it's a little bizarre."
Under Vigneault, the Canucks were among the NHL's highest scoring teams four years in a row and twice led the league in goals.
With Tortorella behind the bench the Rangers become a defensive team with skaters clogging the shooting lanes.
"I think every team needs to play defence," Tortorella said. "I don't think one should hurt the other.
"I don't think there is any coach in this league that does not want more offence out of his club. But that should not short circuit defence."
Tortorella made it clear he expects all his players to be tough on defence, including Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who are first and second in all-time scoring for the Canucks.
"I can tell you right now they are going to kill penalties and if they are going to kill penalties they are going to block shots," he said. "If they are going to play proper defence, that has to be part of the equation.
"I think they will welcome it because they want to get better."
Henrik Sedin, one of several Canuck players who attended the news conference, said he's willing to accept any role the new coach wants.
"He's won before, that's No. 1," said the Vancouver captain. "He's been there and he knows what it takes and we've been close and we're trying to get there.
"It's going to be a great fit for us. He expects a lot out of his players and that's all you can ask for. He seems like he treats everyone the same way. If you are not playing the way you should you are going to hear about it. I think that's good."
The news that Tortorella would become the Canucks' 17th head coach first broke Friday. The 55-year-old arrived in Vancouver Friday afternoon but was whisked out of the airport by a sidedoor without answering questions.
Since then local media has been filled with stories about the Boston native's profanity-laced rants to his players and often adversarial relationship with reporters.
There's been speculation Canuck owner Francesco Aquilini wanted the fiery Tortorella as coach. Tortorella's emotional outbursts and blunt comments seem opposite to the thoughtful, careful approach usually taken by general manager Mike Gillis.
"This decision was one of the most important decisions we made here," said Gillis. "It would be unrealistic to expect ownership not to be involved in that decision, and they were.
"At the end of the day we were both unanimous in our selection."
Gillis said Tortorella signed a five-year deal but wouldn't reveal his salary.
The Canucks were busy putting their own spin on the hiring. An interview with Tortorella appeared on the Canucks website Tuesday morning. There was also a team-produced video on YouTube.
History of winning
Tortorella was a right-winger for the NCAA Maine Black Bears. He spent six seasons as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2004 and received the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. He was with the Rangers for 4 ½ seasons.
During his career Tortorella has a 410-340-37-67 record in 854 NHL games. He's won seven playoff rounds, four of those during the '04 Cup run. Last year he took the Rangers to the Eastern Conference final.
He's won a Calder Cup, an ACHL championship, and was an assistant coach for the U.S. team that won the silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Tortorella admitted it's sometimes frustrating that what he's accomplished as a coach is sometimes overshadowed by his antics.
"Yes, I am a human being," he said. "I don't blame anyone.
"It comes my way. I make my own bed with this stuff. This is the mess I have put myself into. This is the mess I need to get myself out of it. I am not going to put this organization into a difficult spot."
Tortorella talked like a man anxious to change his image. The clock is ticking on whether he can make that happen.
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