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Lecavalier: Tortorella was 'very tough on young players'

Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier said of his ex-coach, “(Tortorella) will have success.”

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier said of his ex-coach, “(Tortorella) will have success.”

Vinny Lecavalier said he believes John Tortorella is a good coach and a good person.

He appreciated the on-ice structure Tortorella brought in seven seasons as Lightning coach and said, "Definitely he will have success. I don't think he'll have a tough time finding another job."

Still, the superstar center said, there were times last season that Tortorella's finger-to-chest style was difficult for some younger players to handle.

"He was very tough on young players," Lecavalier said. "His emotions sometimes made it difficult. I'm not saying that in a bad way. That's the type of coach he is. He is very aggressive, very emotional and very into the game."

Lecavalier has a unique perspective on Tortorella, fired last week in the aftermath of the team's last-place finish.

He was 20 in January 2001 when Tortorella took over for the fired Steve Ludzik. An admittedly difficult relationship was never friendly but morphed into respect as Lecavalier matured into one of the league's best players and Tampa Bay won the 2004 Stanley Cup title.

No surprise, then, Lecavalier spoke carefully when asked how Tortorella might have meshed next season with so many youngsters, including defensemen Alex Picard, 22, Shane O'Brien, 24, Matt Smaby, 23, and Mike Lundin, 23; goalie Mike Smith, 26; and Steve Stamkos, 18, who will be drafted No. 1 and might be asked to be the second-line center.

"It could be good for some and not so good for others," Lecavalier said Tuesday from Montreal, where he is rehabbing after right shoulder surgery. "Everybody knows how Torts is, and after a few years you get to understand it a little more.

"But he's very demanding on young players, and I don't think everybody takes him the same way, which is normal. Everybody reacts differently to different situations. Some guys don't react well to that."

Lecavalier, 28, had good and bad with Tortorella.

They got off on the wrong foot when Lecavalier's captaincy was taken away before the 2001-02 season and Tortorella sat Lecavalier in the first game that season (for his own good, Tortorella said at the time) after Lecavalier ended his training camp holdout that extended through the opener.

"We've had our differences, but that's how it is," Lecavalier said. "You're not always going to agree with the coach and the coach is not always going to agree with players. I've had tough years with him, but our relationship the past few years is not even close to being when I started."

Even so, Lecavalier said he has not spoken to Tortorella since the firing (which apparently opens the door for incoming ownership to hire Barry Melrose) and does not know if he will. Still, he said he wishes Tortorella well.

"You never wish that on anybody," Lecavalier said of being fired. "But things happen. It's part of the business. And with new ownership coming in, maybe to have a different type of coach, a different philosophy. I don't mean the old one or new one is better, but sometimes change is good."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Lecavalier: Tortorella was 'very tough on young players' 06/10/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 11:01pm]
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