- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

New York Rangers coach John Tortorella on Saturday was suspended for Sunday’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal Game 6 against the Washington Capitals following an incident with fans at Verizon Center during Game 5.

In the third period of the Caps’ 4-0 victory Friday, Tortorella squirted a fan with water, then threw a water bottle into the stands that struck a fan.

Interim assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld, who was the Caps’ coach from 1993 to 1997, is expected to replace Tortorella.

“While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot - and will not - tolerate any physical contact with fans,” said Colin Campbell, NHL senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations.

In the incident, which occurred with 15:27 remaining, Tortorella used a stick to point out several fans. At least one fan was escorted from the section. The league investigated the incident and needed nearly 24 hours to reach a decision, which was made by commissioner Gary Bettman.

The Rangers released a brief statement: “We disagree with the suspension and will have no further comment.”

Said Campbell in his statement: “We do not take this action lightly. It is the result of an entire day of investigation and evaluation that included the retrieval and review of videotape of the incident and discussions with Mr. Tortorella, other Rangers bench personnel and a number of other people, including the security personnel at the Verizon Center.

“That investigation revealed that Mr. Tortorella squirted a fan with water before Mr. Tortorella was doused with a beverage.”

After the game, Tortorella refused to answer questions about the incident.

“Ask me a question about the game,” he said during his postgame news conference. “That has nothing to do with the game.”

Tortorella repeated that line when a reporter pressed the issue, and Rangers vice president of public relations John Rosasco said, “Another one on that and we’re done, OK?”

When asked about the incident Friday, Rangers captain Chris Drury said, “I didn’t see it” and walked away from reporters.

Said New York defenseman Marc Staal on Friday: “When I looked over, Torts was turned and facing the crowd and might’ve got sprayed or something from a fan. But I’m not completely sure; I haven’t really talked to anybody about it yet.”

• Staff writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this article.

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