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John Robert Tortorella is an American ice hockey coach. Tortorella has held the position of head coach of the Vancouver Canucks (2013–2014), the New York Rangers (2009–2013) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (2001–2008). He led Tampa Bay to the 2004 Stanley Cup championship and compiled a 239–222–36–38 record with the Lightning.
Tortorella's coaching career began with the American Hockey League (AHL)'s Rochester Americans and the ECHL's Virginia Lancers. He was also an assistant coach for the AHL's New Haven Nighthawks and Rochester Americans, and the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers. He won the Calder Cup with the 1996 Rochester Americans.
Tortorella—or "Torts" as he is sometimes called by the press—is known for his outspoken nature—which has included criticizing his own players—and for his unusual system of regularly rotating goaltending duties during his time in Tampa Bay; a system which was discontinued when he became head coach of the New York Rangers and could use Henrik Lundqvist as the regular starting goalie.
Tortorella took over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2000–01 as a mid-season replacement. He inherited a team that had been among the dregs of the league for four years, having lost 50 games or more in every season during that time. The team won only 12 of its last 43 games under his watch, finishing last in the division. The following season, the team finished well out of playoff contention despite finishing third in the Southeast Division. However, they showed signs of life for the first time in five years, cracking the 60-point barrier for the first time since 1996-97.
The 2002–03 season marked Tortorella's first winning season as an NHL head coach, as the Lightning won their first Southeast Division title, losing to the New Jersey Devils four games to one in the second round of the 2003 playoffs. At the end of the season he was also recognized as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, losing out to Minnesota's Jacques Lemaire.
In 2003–04, Tortorella's fourth season with the team, the Lightning ran away with the Southeast Division title, tallying 106 points—the second-best record in the league. The Lightning were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and proceeded to defeat the New York Islanders, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Eastern Conference Championship. In the Stanley Cup Finals, they defeated the Western Conference champion Calgary Flames four games to three, winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. In doing so Tortorella became just the third American-born coach to win it and the first in 13 years. The team was in its eleventh year of existence. It was the last Stanley Cup won before the 2004–05 NHL lockout. A few days after winning the Stanley Cup, Tortorella won the 2004 Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
Before the start of the 2005–06 season – the NHL's first post-lockout campaign – Tampa Bay's starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin left the team due to the newly implemented salary cap restrictions. Tortorella was hard on Lightning goaltender John Grahame for much of the 2005–06. Grahame subsequently signed with the Carolina Hurricanes before the start of the 2006–07 season. Despite the Lightning winning a 2nd-team best 44 games in 2006–07, the Lightning were unable to defend their division title.
He was involved in controversy yet again after game five of Lightning's series against the New Jersey Devils during the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs. During a press conference during which Tortorella was visibly disappointed, he refused to answer questions directly, saying only "We know what we did" each time a reporter asked a question. When New York Post reporter Larry Brooks asked "What did you do?" Tortorella refused to explain. Frustrated, Brooks eventually asked, "Are you not answering questions, or what?" and when Tortorella answered that he was not, Brooks called the interview "a waste of time." Tortorella then told Brooks to "get the fuck out of here" live on CBC television.
Tortorella was fined $10,000 by the NHL for negative comments he made about the on-ice officials after a 4–3 overtime loss at the Atlanta Thrashers on November 19, 2007.
On March 11, 2008 with the Lightning defeat of the New York Islanders, Tortorella passed Bob Johnson as the most successful American-born NHL coach with 235 victories.
After he left the Lightning, Tortorella was an in-studio panelist on the NHL on TSN. During this time, on November 7, 2008, Peter Laviolette would overtake his victory total for an American coach.
Tortorella was named head coach of the New York Rangers on February 23, 2009, replacing Tom Renney, who was relieved of his duties earlier that day. On March 17, he again became the American-born coach with the most wins in NHL history, this time surpassing Laviolette.
Tortorella was suspended one game by the NHL for an altercation with several Capitals fans behind the bench in the third period of Game 5 in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. Replays show the fan clearly heckling Tortorella through verbal jeering, before Tortorella responded by throwing a water bottle at a fan before grabbing a stick from Aaron Voros and trying to spear the fan through a space between 2 panes of glass. He did not receive a penalty on the play despite the fact that NHL rules state any physical altercations with fans result in ejection from a game; however, the next day the NHL suspended him.
When Laviolette became coach of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009, the rivalry between the two teams became further heated with Tortorella and Laviolette being the U.S.-born coaches with the most wins in NHL history.
In the 2011–12 season he guided the Rangers to the franchise's third ever 50-win season and the best record in the Eastern Conference with a total of 51-24-7 for 109 points. New York lost in the Conference Finals however, to the New Jersey Devils in 6 games. At season's end, Tortorella became a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for a 3rd time, losing to Ken Hitchcock of St. Louis.
On March 26, 2013 with a 5-2 defeat of Laviolette's Flyers, John Tortorella became the first U.S.-born coach to reach 400 career victories.
The Rangers fired Tortorella on Wednesday May 29, 2013, four days after New York was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
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