VOORHEES, N.J. – After a slam dunk of an introductory press conference last Friday, John Tortorella spent his first official day on the job Tuesday.
He didn’t waste time. He already has his entire Flyers training camp planned. He’s already setting up meetings with players. Had his first chats with Kevin Hayes, Carter Hart and Cam Atkinson, just to name a few.
He plans on spending parts of the next few weeks in Voorhees, doing more of the same – getting to know his new team.
He’s a get-to-work kind of guy. He prepares. He’s detail-oriented. He’s everything you want in a coach.
And yet, his first two days in town with his new team, had very little to do with coaching, and a lot more to do with just being John Tortorella – and becoming the new face of the franchise.
No more complaining about the marketing of a certain cross-eyed mascot. That era has ended.
(Oh, Gritty will still be a big part of the organization, but he no longer will be the primary marketing focus).
Instead, the face you’ll see will be less hairy and a bit more grey, the voice you hear will have that recognizable Boston affectation, the image you’ll think of now when it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers will be that of a throwback, pugnacious coach who is smart enough to let the perception of his coaching style carry the torch for a hopeful Flyers renaissance while he operates in a completely different manner in getting the Flyers back to respectability.
That’s because Tortorella, who turns 64 next week and is the oldest coach the Flyers have ever hired, is not the caricature of a fiery, ill-tempered hockey coach that has seemed to be portrayed about him through various media in his professional coaching career.
He doesn’t hide from that part of his persona. He knows it’s there. He knows at times he can be gruff or crusty or go mano a mano with the media. It’s all good. It’ll fit with the history the Flyers logo represents.
But he’s also much more mellow now in his “experienced” years – and that will allow everyone to get to see the other side of Tortorella. The side that has always been there. The side that people have always quietly appreciated and respected and implied was what made him as a good a coach and leader of athletes as he has been for the majority of the 21st Century – and that is that he’s a good person who cares about anyone and everyone who comes into his life, whether it’s for just a few minutes or someone he becomes friends with for life.
And that’s not a surprise. If you are an emotional person you know you can be in touch with your soft side as often, if not more so, than the fierce, competitive, armor-clad side as well.
And it was important for Tortorella to show that upon his arrival to the Philadelphia area.
Tortorella has proven already to be someone who can self-assess, and quickly, identify his own strengths and weaknesses, implement using the former, learn, or step aside and let someone else do the latter (for example, he told us that he doesn’t know anything about goaltending, which is why he’s going to let goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh, who will be retained for his staff, handle goaltending).
But it’s not just about providing a positive message in his locker room or on the ice to get everyone to buy in to what he’s preaching as a coach. It’s more than that – and it’s not just about winning over a locker room of players, but a city starving for hockey relevancy again.
Under the direction of Flyers Governor Dave Scott and working closely with the Flyers business operations, specifically President Valerie Camillo and her team, Tortorella had a whirlwind of events scheduled, and, much like he did in his opening press conference last week, hit each one out of the park.
Lunch in Voorhees with some former season ticket holders who decided to give up their tickets after last season, maybe convincing them to come back? Check.
Jennifer Kaliser, one of the former season ticket holders, asked him about his animal welfare advocacy – something Torts has always been passionate about as part of his his Tortorella Family Foundation – and if he would bring his “Hockey and Hounds” program to Philadelphia, a weekly radio segment that he started when coaching in Columbus to talk about hockey but also create awareness for rescue animals.
Tortorella’s eyes lit up. He dove into the conversation with as much vim and vigor as if he was discussing shutting down an opponent’s power play. Kaliser was touched. An advocate herself deeply involved in pit bull rescue, she could tell he was genuine. This wasn’t an act. She told him she’d like to work together with him down the road to grow the advocacy and awareness in the Philadelphia area. Torts asked her for her card.
A disenfranchised fan of the Flyers as recently as yesterday morning, she now might consider investing in her seats again, if the Flyers can work with her on a couple other issues – but Tortorella won her over.
“I went to the Q&A too,” Kaliser said outside the Flyers practice facility Tuesday. “I wanted to hear him talk to the fans as well. I wanted to hear him talk about leadership. I lead a team (at work) and so many things he talked about just resonated with me.”
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kaliser
That Q&A, she referred to, was a meet-and-greet of sorts for Flyers season ticket holders and the new coach that took place Tuesday afternoon.
(Crossing Broad was able to obtain a recording of that Q&A late Tuesday. We will transcribe it and share anything that was meaningful or different from the original press conference last week).
After spending a half hour with fans, Tortorella did something even more amazing.
Tortorella teamed up with Flyers Charities to surprise high school and college-aged students to tell them that they are the winners of the 2022 Michael’s Way Scholarship. The scholarship will reward each student with $5,000 to support their education for the 2022-2023 school year.
“It was an honor to be involved with this announcement and be a small part of these students’ courageous journeys,” Tortorella said.
Earlier this year, at the Flyers’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night, Flyers Charities presented Michael’s Way with a $25,000 check to support the Michael’s Way Scholarship and the organization’s aim at improving the lives of children with pediatric cancer and supporting the parents struggling under the financial strain of such a devastating diagnosis.
“We were thrilled to have Coach Tortorella share this special announcement with our five winners,” said Cindy Stutman, Executive Director of Flyers Charities. “Flyers Charities is excited to welcome Coach to the Flyers and work with him to make a difference in our local communities.”
From there, Tortorella, gathered for a 45-minute off-record pow wow with the local media, where he got to meet us in person for the first time and really shared some good anecdotes as well as gave us some insight into his process and procedure.
And if that wasn’t a full enough day for the new coach, Tortorella is back at it today.
He plans on attending the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation graduation ceremonies tonight at the Wells Fargo Center where he plans on addressing the graduates, all of whom will be attending post-secondary programs beginning in the Fall at either four-year colleges, community colleges, or trade schools.
Tortorella is also sitting down with a variety of news outlets for special one-one-one interviews. He wants Philadelphia to know him and he wants to know Philadelphia. He wants an understanding between the two, because if he’s going to fix what ails the Flyers, then he has to start here – with the public. With the perception of the organization. With making people believe, once again, in the Flyers not only as a good hockey team, but as a pillar in the Philadelphia sports landscape.
If that means he has to be the face of the team for a time, so be it. Let it happen. It’s the face lift the Flyers need.
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