Not many toddlers have grizzled grey beards, but there’s a lot of similarities between a stubborn two-year-old and New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella.
For weeks, Tortorella was stuck on the word “No” – at times expanded all the way to “No comment” – but suddenly this week he has become a positive stream of unexpected words and sentences.
Sunday morning at Madison Square Garden, during a quasi-optional skate for his team, Tortorella sounded off on the reaction in hockey circles to the nasty elbow Rangers forward Brandon Prust delivered in Game 3 to the head of New Jersey Devils defenceman Anton Volchenkov.
Volchenkov, known for his hardiness, his hits and his willingness to block shots, went down hard and stayed down, rising to all fours and seemingly staggered by the blow.
Not surprisingly, the calls for action were quick.
“Head hunting,” New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer called it. “Plain and simple.”
NHL head office noticed, with head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan wanting a few words with Prust and virtually everyone anticipating a suspension of at least one game – which is reportedly just what the league handed down late Sunday night.
“Prust has probably played more than 300 games without any hearing, without anything going on,” the New York coach said. “He’s probably one of the most honest players.”
It was a sentiment echoed in the dressing room of the Rangers after, almost as if they had just walked out of a lecture with this phrase – “honest player” – marked with yellow high-lighter to ensure they’d remember it.
Prust himself was adamant that he was innocent. He conceded that his intention was to “rub him out” when he hit Volchenkov, but he denied there was anything dirty about the hit. When he got back to the bench and saw that Volchenkov was still down on all fours, his first thought was that he must have caught him with his knee and caused a charley horse.
The hit had merely been “reaction,” Prust said. “I had no intention. There was nothing vicious about it… I didn’t even know that I elbowed him.”
But Tortorella wasn’t satisfied with defence only, as he so often appears to be while behind the bench. At the podium, the suddenly loquacious Tortorella then launched an offensive against the Devils.
“I look at the [Dainius]Zubrus elbow of [Anton]Stralman,” Tortorella said. “I look at [Zach]Parise launching himself at [Michael]Del Zotto. Maybe if our players stay down on the ice, we’ll get something. We tell our players ‘don’t stay down on the ice, get up’.”
Anyone who has known and watched Volchenkov during his early years with the Ottawa Senators or his time with the Devils would know that the sturdy Russian prides himself on playing through pain is one of the game’s least likely to dive, but that was the only suggestion that could be taken from Tortorella’s rant.
Not was he done. After detailing the dirty plays of individuals on the New Jersey side, he moved on to take on the entire team, accusing them of using Europe-style ‘picks’ – essentially interference tactics – to ensure that the Rangers could not get in position to block the hard point shots of New Jersey’s top power play threat, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Comical," Devils coach Peter DeBoer responded from the other side of the Hudson River.
“The picking on the power play,” Tortorella continued. “If we want to start discussing officials with the media, I have a long list here. That’s a set play by Jersey, picking so we can’t get to Kovalchuk to block a shot.
“Do you want some more?”
Of course – this series doesn’t have many moments on the ice, so nice to get something off the ice for once.