Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella and Fredrik Modin's Olympic experience
The feel-good situation with Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Mike Smith -- that coach Rick Tocchet let him go see his girlfriend, Brigitte Acton ski the Olympic slalom for Canada, and how grateful Smith was for the opportunity -- got me thinking back to 2006 and how then-coach John Tortorella handled Fred Modin's Olympic experience.
Modin and Sweden won the gold that year, but rather than let Modin attend the celebratory parade back in Sweden, Tortorella wanted Modin back with the team as soon as possible to be available for the first game out of the Olympic break. Modin complied and missed the parade that not only celebrated the gold medal but a victory in the final over neighbor and rival Finland.
The situation created some hurt feelings for Modin and some bad feelings within the locker room as Modin's teammates felt he should have been allowed to attend the parade. It is unclear if Modin could have made it back in time even if he had attended the parade; someone who was there at the time recalled the other day that he could have. That person even speculated that was the moment Torts might have lost the team, and if you look back at the Lightning's record that season, there may be some validity.
Tampa Bay was 32-22-4 heading into the Olympic break. It was 11-11-2 the rest of the way, and lost five of the first six games out of the break, including an 8-2 thrashing by the Panthers, the game for which it was so important for Modin to get back. The swoon put the Lightning into the playoffs as the eighth seed, one point back of the Canadiens and the difference between facing the Senators in the first round and the Hurricanes. I know, the Hurricanes won the Cup that season, but Tampa Bay was 5-2-1 against the Canes in 2005-06 and 0-4-0 against the Senators, who beat the Lightning in five games in the East quarterfinals.
I'm not trying to equate the two situations at all. Smith missed a couple of practices, Torts was trying to make sure Modin didn't miss an important game. The point is, managing athletes as people matters. It's nice to see, in this instance, Tocchet got it.