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Tortorella wants to challenge players

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published January 7, 2004

OTTAWA - Lightning coach John Tortorella knew the questions were coming.

Tampa Bay's five-game road trip brings it to Canada for the first time since Tortorella's sometimes tense relationship with Vinny Lecavalier bubbled up after a Dec. 23 benching in Boston.

But what began with reporters asking Tortorella about Lecavalier ended with Tortorella asking why coaching decisions, and not just those that apply to Lecavalier, are sometimes turned into soap operas?

"Why can't you challenge athletes nowadays?" Tortorella said Tuesday. "Do I have to check with (executive director) Bob Goodenow at the players association. Do I need to check with the agents, "Can I coach your kid this way?'

"That is garbage to me. That's the way this coaching staff coaches. We are going to challenge people. When there is challenge there can be some conflict, but that's healthy because you get right to the problem."

Asked if more is made of a Lecavalier benching because of his status with the team and because he was the No. 1 draft pick of 1998, Tortorella said, "You guys have to answer that question. I don't care what the draft pick is. I don't care if it's 250th or first. The way the Lightning survives is to play as a team, and everybody is going to play under that team concept.

"I'm coaching a team. There's a team dynamic in that locker room. That's the way it's going to be."

No matter the questions.

"We are honest with our players," Tortorella said, "and it's going to continue no matter what people get upset about it, the players or the entourages around them. That does not affect us. We are coaching the player and trying to help the team win."

NATIONAL PRIDE: When the Canadian junior team lost 4-3 to the United States in Monday's world title game, it jolted a few of Cory Sarich's memories.

The Lightning defenseman was a member of the last Canadian junior team to win a world championship in 1997. But he also played on the 1998 team that finished eighth and lost to the United States and Kazakhstan.

"I just felt bad for them," Sarich said. "I know what they were going through. You want to do the best for your country, and it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders." Sarich said it was "tough being as interested as you want to be in Tampa because there is not a lot of coverage."

So he kept track on the Internet.

"Young guys out of Canada," he said. "You had to be rooting for them."

ODDS AND ENDS: All-Star starters will be announced Thursday. Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis is in a tight race with Ottawa's Marian Hossa for the second wing position in the East. ... Right wing Shane Willis, left wing Dmitry Afanasenkov and defenseman Darren Rumble were scratched.

[Last modified January 7, 2004, 01:33:45]

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