With Johnny Torts in town, it’s all over but the shouting

John Tortorella, the man behind the 2004 Stanley Cup run, stands in the Lightning’s path starting tonight.
Columbus' John Tortorella isn't interested in talking about old times with the Lightning or reflecting on the current Tampa Bay team. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Columbus' John Tortorella isn't interested in talking about old times with the Lightning or reflecting on the current Tampa Bay team. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published April 10

BRANDON — Dave Andreychuk, hockey Hall of Famer and captain of the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup winner, has already awakened thinking about it.

“I dreamed that Torts went to the trap and played for a 1-0 game,” Andreychuk said.

The Torts trap.

We’re all wondering what will happen when the Lightning begins the playoffs tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets and with them John Tortorella, the man himself, the fire starter behind the franchise’s only Cup.

Johnny Torts, in the way, heat shields up, force field in place.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Columbus’ head coach has permanent memory loss for the next two weeks. Lightning fans who love him might hate him before the weekend. Game on.

“Don’t even start talking to me about nostalgia and reminiscing,” Tortorella said Tuesday after Columbus practice. “I mean it. We are focused. I like this team that we have here in Columbus. We are totally focused on what we are trying to do.”

Goodness gracious, I miss him.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who will match wits and possibly head games with Tortorella in this series, knows Torts’ place on the totem pole of Lightning history, and as such struck a smiling, peaceful note Tuesday.

“Torts is the man,” Cooper said. “I haven’t spent a ton of time with him, but the time I have spent with him, I really enjoy. He’s going to hate me saying this, but he just has this image portrayed, but when you’re one-on-one with him, that’s not what you see. He’s got a big heart. What I love about Torts is that he’s passionate as hell, and he gives you everything he has, and the players see it.”

Tortorella was later asked about Cooper.

“Yeah … I’m not interested in talking about the other team. We’re going to compete against them and play against them. That’s all we’re looking to do here,” Torts said,

Did I already say that I miss him?

John Tortorella might be my favorite coach in Tampa Bay sports history. He dug the trenches, then led his players over the walls, always on the lookout, to the point of sometimes embarrassing them or himself. He also is a devoted husband and father, a softy, a patriot. He helps rescue at-risk dogs and now at-risk horses. Yes, Torts loves every living creature unless they’re locked up with him in a seven-game series.

“He’s doing what he does,” said Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi, who played for Tortorella on the New York Rangers. “He’s a great coach, no two ways about it. He’s going to try to do whatever it takes to get on us and get us off our game.”

“His emotion is there every single day,” said Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who also played for Tortorella in New York. “You’ve got to be prepared to match that and rise above it. You have to have a ton of respect for someone who has that much passion for the game. And he has your back as a player and as a team. He’s not afraid to call other people out, the opposition, the referees.”

All coming to a hockey series near you.

Even when he was with the Lightning, there were two Torts, one for the season and one for the playoffs. Tortorella admits it.

“I think when you’re going through the regular season, all the things that go on with a team, the egos of players, the ups and downs of a long 82-game schedule, I think a coach needs to make sure,” Tortorella said. “I think the biggest part of his job is trying to push the right buttons to get each and every player ready to play, and then buy into playing in a team concept. I think when you go through the months of that, a coach needs to be sharp in that area.

“After you go through a season and you get where you want to be in the playoffs, I think the coach has to put the pause button on that type of attitude as far as coaching and be with the team. They’ve done the things you’ve asked them to do to get through that regular season to get the team to the playoffs. Now we’ve got to try to enjoy it together. … Here, I think we kind of join in together. I think it brings a type of camaraderie you need when you get into the playoffs.”

Here are the playoffs.

Here is Johnny Torts.

Sweet dreams, everybody.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.