Tortorella puts NHL career on hold to coach Team USA
John Tortorella's decision to return to coaching is separate from his desire to one day land another NHL job following a year's absence.
Calling the two "apples and oranges," Tortorella put his country first and NHL career second by jumping at the chance to coach Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
"I've had a number of people ask me that question, `Does this get you back in the National Hockey League or foot in the door?' I look at this totally different than that," he said Tuesday, a day after USA Hockey announced his hiring. "This is about doing the right thing and getting ready to play the World Cup against other countries."
And if that means representing the United States, the NHL's winningest U.S.-born coach was eager for the opportunity when first contacted by USA Hockey officials.
"I think it took me two seconds," said Tortorella, who is from Boston. "This is the USA, this is your country."
At 57, the ever-passionate and sometimes combative coach who goes by the nickname "Torts" is getting back behind the bench after his 14-year career came to a sudden halt in May 2014, when he was fired after one year coaching the Vancouver Canucks.
Tortorella acknowledged spending the past year soul-searching in determining what he might have done differently in Vancouver. It was a season in which a second-half collapse led to the Canucks missing the playoffs three years after reaching the Stanley Cup final.
"I have searched and looked at situations of what I could've done a better job there, and I do have some answers with that," he said. "So sure, I think you become a better coach when you dig deep."
That's what Team USA and Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi is counting on from Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, when he was also named the NHL's coach of the year, and has a 446-375-115 career record split over three teams, including the New York Rangers.
What impressed Lombardi most was Tortorella's openness in acknowledging mistakes he's made regarding his coaching philosophy, and when dealing with players, opposing coaches and even the media.
In Vancouver, Tortorella developed a running feud with Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley, and was suspended for 15 days for trying to enter the Flames locker room following a brawl between the two teams.
"When you see a guy with this type of track record to be willing to admit that he made mistakes, that does not often happen," Lombardi said.
That leads Lombardi to believe Tortorella can be an even better.
"I think it's invaluable," he said referring to Tortorella's year off. "He gets a little breath of fresh air and realizes that he made mistakes, you're going to get an even better coach down the road."
Based on discussions he's had with potential U.S. players, Lombardi said Tortorella commands their immediate respect.
Tortorella's teams are also known for their hard-working, attacking style. That's something Lombardi is looking for in a coach when it comes to having little time to prepare a team for a three-week, eight-team tournament to be held in Toronto next September.
"He instantly gives your team an identity, and no question that stands for something," Lombardi said.
Tortorella not having an NHL job also works as a benefit. That means he can focus solely on the World Cup, by scouting players and assembling his staff.
Tortorella has ties to USA Hockey, most notably coaching the U.S. team to a sixth-place finish at the 2008 World Championships. He was also a two-time national team assistant, most recently serving under Ron Wilson on the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
USA Hockey announced earlier in the day that Tortorella will coach the national team at the Deutschland Cup in November. The team will be made up mostly of U.S. players currently competing in Europe. The NHL Network also announced that Tortorella will serve as an analyst this season.
Tortorella is looking forward to finally be back in a familiar spot behind the bench - any bench.
"Oh, gosh, yeah," Tortorella said. "We are playing for our country. And I'm so excited and so honored to have this opportunity."