- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

CALGARY, Alberta — One is a bearded Boston area native who believes in up-tempo hockey but never got close to skating in the NHL. He became the focal point of the Eastern Conference finals after he told his respected counterpart to “shut your yap” and seems to revel in the give-and-take with the media.

The other is a clean-shaven farmer’s son from Viking, Alberta, who believes defense is the key to victory after playing eight years in the NHL. He gave one sentence answers to six of 10 questions during a postgame press conference the other night and often has the bitter beer face when dealing with media.

Though different in style and manner, Tampa Bay’s John Tortorella and Calgary’s Darryl Sutter have their teams in the same place, the Stanley Cup Finals. After years of being NHL bottom feeders, the Lightning and the Flames lock up in Game5 tomorrow in Tampa, Fla., with the series tied at 2-2.

The secret? A little bit of tough love.

After the Lightning’s high-powered offense was shut out in Game3, the often-fiery Tortorella cited his five top scorers by name and said, “I’m not pointing the finger. It’s not calling them out. But the way we play, your offensive people have to be your best players. In the finals, you’re [darn] right they better raise their level.”

The Lightning had made the playoffs once since joining the NHL in 1992 when Tortorella took over the last-place team in 2001. Tampa Bay made a small leap — 10 points — in his first season, then finished with 93 points and its first division title in 2002-2003. This season, the Lightning finished with the most points in the Eastern Conference and the second most in the NHL.

Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk first encountered Tortorella when the coach was a rookie NHL assistant in Buffalo in 1989.

“Torts’ honesty … sometimes it’s brutally honest, but as players, that’s what we want,” said Andreychuk, whom Tortorella cajoled into signing with the laughable Lightning in July 2001. “I think he’s done a great job motivating his players.”

Sutter turned San Jose into a consistent winner before being fired in December 2002. He was almost immediately hired in Calgary but couldn’t keep the Flames out of last place in the Northwest Division last season. This year, however, he motivated the Flames — once a perennial playoff team — to the postseason for the first time in seven years in a less demonstrative fashion than his counterpart.

“Darryl makes everybody accountable game in and game out,” center Craig Conroy said. “He’s very tough on the guys. If you didn’t play well, Darryl was going to let you have it. I think he was kind of building that mental toughness for us to be prepared when the playoffs came because he believed right from the beginning that we were going to make the playoffs. Now we all believe in ourselves, and Darryl is a big part of that.”

Lightning center Tim Taylor noted how driven Tortorella is but said he’s no remote manipulator like the NHL’s winningest coach, Scotty Bowman.

“I’ve always felt that Torts related well to players,” said Taylor, who first played for interim coach Tortorella on the 1999-2000 New York Rangers. “Torts is a lot like Scotty [whom Taylor played for in Detroit]. They both demand a lot. The difference is that Torts is very honest with players. You can talk to him when things aren’t going well, and he can try and help you out. Scotty just left you alone, especially when you weren’t in the lineup.”

But Tortorella didn’t show any sympathy to defenseman Dan Boyle, whose house suffered major fire damage during Tampa Bay’s Game1 loss. The coach had Andreychuk give Boyle the news and said, “That’s just a bunch of wood burning. There’s no one hurt. Whatever the insurance doesn’t take care of, I’m sure Dan has enough money to take care of it himself.”

In contrast, Sutter took the rare step of waiting by the losers’ bench after the Western Conference finals to shake hands with the Sharks, many of whom he had coached.

Tortorella and Sutter. Two coaches from different backgrounds with different styles who ultimately wound up in the same place.

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