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'Special bond' connects former Tampa Lightning coach John Tortorella and security chief of St. Pete Times Forum

Rangers and former Lightning coach John Tortorella, left, talks with St. Pete Times Forum security chief and “part of our family” Tony Castillo, who had a heart attack in June.

Special to the Times

Rangers and former Lightning coach John Tortorella, left, talks with St. Pete Times Forum security chief and “part of our family” Tony Castillo, who had a heart attack in June.

How appropriate the Rangers faced the Lightning on the day before Thanksgiving at the St. Pete Times Forum. The holiday is a time for family, after all, and the game made it possible for an emotional reunion.

"I hugged him," New York coach John Tortorella said of Tony Castillo. "I practically jumped into his arms."

"When I saw the big guy," Castillo said, "I broke down."

It was the first time they had seen each other since July, when Castillo, the Times Forum's head of security, was in Tampa General Hospital recovering from a massive heart attack and Tortorella, the Lightning's former coach, was his daily companion.

To hear Castillo's son, Reggie, tell it, Tortorella is one reason Castillo, 56 — whom doctors indicated at the time might have brain damage from oxygen deprivation, if he survived — is expected in a few months to be back at work.

"(Tortorella) was probably the greatest motivator he had," said Reggie, who also works security at the arena. "Under normal circumstances, you would say family would be the greatest motivator, but they have a special bond I wasn't aware of until I saw it in action."

The bond solidified during Tortorella's seven years with Tampa Bay. Tortorella even pushed back a family vacation to sit with Castillo, who had the attack in June while cutting his grass.

Tortorella said credit for helping pull Castillo through goes to Castillo's wife, Alicia, and Reggie. But Reggie said Tortorella "was huge," especially right after his dad woke from a 10-day coma.

"The biggest sign was his reaction when Torts would come into the room," Reggie said. "Just a huge smile. I would relate that smile to a 5-year-old on Christmas morning. It was an incredible response very few of us got."

Castillo said he remembers Tortorella ordering him to squeeze his hand "like a man. … He'd jump on the bed saying, 'I'm going to kick your (rear end) if you don't get well.' He told me to fight. It meant the world to me."

"The doctors told us we needed to stimulate him," Tortorella said. "That was my way to help stimulate him."

It went on like that for six weeks. Sometimes Tortorella visited twice a day.

"He even put up with a Boston Bruins nurse," Castillo said.

Tortorella and Castillo still talk twice a week, even though Tortorella is hip-deep in the season.

"He is part of our family," Tortorella said. "He always will be."

Happy Thanksgiving.

'Special bond' connects former Tampa Lightning coach John Tortorella and security chief of St. Pete Times Forum 11/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 27, 2010 8:14pm]
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