Jim Schoenfeld Stands By Tortorella
A nice long best-of-seven playoff series almost never lacks for story lines, but the Caps-Rangers things officially entered TV miniseries status sometime on Friday night. With John Tortorella suspended today--replaced by Jim Schoenfeld, who lost a 3-1 series lead while coaching the Caps AND was previously suspended for a playoff game after blowing his top as a head coach--there are almost too many juicy subplots to count.
Shoenfeld took the mic at noon, spoke for nearly 12 minutes, and was everything Tortorella hasn't been: funny, gracious, expansive, relaxed, and so on. He sat there with his legs crossed, and provided a day's worth of powerful bites, none better than when he was asked about the team's head coach, who had to vacate the dressing room and cease contact with the team at noon.
"I mean, he obviously feels bad," Schoenfeld said. "He feels that he presented a distraction that the team could do without. But I think it should be said that the passion, the fire and the leadership that Tortorella has brought to the team took a team that was dead in the water when he was arrived. And without the work of John Tortorella this incident wouldn't have happened, because we wouldn't have made the playoffs. That's a fact.
"So when you're a fiery guy, there is that fine line, whether you're a player or whether you're a coach, or any line of work. But I believe in my heart, without that fire, without that passion, without the direction he placed for the team, the team wouldn't have made the playoffs this year. So his hurt is that he has created a distraction for the players. He still believes they're going to get the job done, and I'll say it again, they wouldn't even be in this situation if not for John Tortorella."
He again backed the coach strongly a few minutes later, when asked whether he was disappointed (in his role in the team's management structure) that the coach allowed himself to be pulled into a confrontation away from the ice. This all needs to be read in the context of a New York media that harshly criticized the meltdown.
"Well I'll tell you, I know the heart of the guy and I know the thing that triggered it," Schoenfeld said. "And it wasn't any sling they threw at him, and there were many. It's what they said about one of his players. And it's easy to say you've gotta be in control, you've got to keep it in check, you've got to turn the other way, there are rules. But there's a certain part of your being when you're a coach and it's just like being a parent, and there's certain things you'll put up with when people slander your kids.
"And there's a certain line that people cross. And that's what happened with John. You can say what you want to Torts. I know the man. Call him whatever you want. He'll tell you what to do with your horse, but he's ok with that. But DON'T get down on the people he cares about. He'll fight for them. He will fight for them, and that's what he did."
He was also asked about the irony mentioned above: the the once-suspended fiery coach will now replace the current-suspended fiery coach.
"I think there are 40 young men who are playing their asses off for a chance to get a crack at a Stanley Cup, and the water really shouldn't be muddied about something that happened over 20 years ago," he said genially. "It's a little bit too long in the past, and really doesn't have anything to do with what should be the focus, and that's the 40 guys that are gonna be playing today. Yeah, it's a tad ironic. Yeah, all right, I'll give you that. It's a tad ironic that people think I was holding Torts back when I was trying to push him over the glass."
"I mean, listen, you guys might be different, but if I could rewind the tape and put the erase button on over the course of my life, I'd have a sore thumb," he said later, when asked how he changed after his own suspension. "There are a lot of things I'd like to change. But you are who you are, and maybe you needed those things to get you to this point anyway. You don't know, I don't know the big picture. So we all have things that we try to keep in check, and sometimes those are the things that enable us to do well what we do. Sometimes we go over the edge."
Back to today, he said that the head coach didn't address the team this morning because he didn't want to be a distraction, that the team's minor-league coaching call-ups will not be handling matchup issues today, and repeatedly, that the team's tactics do not change a whit with him behind the bench instead of Tortorella, .
"We've said it from the onset, we want to spend more time in the offensive zone, we want to maintain possession of the puck, we don't want to turn the puck over at the offensive blueline or between the offensive blueline and the top of the circles," he said. "When we do that, we're playing with fire. We want our D to close the gap, we want them to limit their speed through the neutral zone. That's all a constant. We want play from the inside out. That's not a new message, and so that's the same approach we're gonna have today, if you want the tactical side of things, but we've said that. I've read that in every interview from our players, from John pre-game post-game. That hasn't changed. It's the only way we can compete against the firepower this team has."
He also said the coaching situation won't be a motivator for his troops.
"Well, if we need motivation then we're not going anywhere anyway, to be honest with you," Schoenfeld said. "I think our main task is to get the players focused on the tangible things they have to do to defeat a team that's full of firepower. I know the players have a high regard for John.
"I know Sean Avery has a high regard for him, because John cared enough to put himself in a position where he knew he was gonna get criticized, because he thought it was the right thing to do to help this kid take the next step in his growth, just like you'd do for your son. I know the heart of the guy. You guys don't yet. Once you do, I think you'll have a way better understanding of some of the things he does and why he does them."
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