The Lightning star calms the frenzy the Canadian press tries to stir up.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published January 11, 2004
To watch Vinny Lecavalier handle the media in Montreal is to see a player who, in some ways, is more mature than his 23 years.
One slip of the tongue, one hesitation and the 25 reporters surrounding his locker Thursday would have pounced and further whipped up the storm it was trying to create.
Instead, Lecavalier laughed as he spoke, answered every question in French and English and, in the process, controlled a media machine intent on creating a firestorm between he and coach John Tortorella.
"I know they'll ask some juicy questions," Lecavalier said. "It's part of the job. If it's pressure, I don't mind it. It's Montreal. It's a great city and a great hockey town."
It is Lecavalier's hometown.
Raised in the suburb of Ile Bizard, Lecavalier has been scrutinized and picked at since he was a junior and the No.1 pick of the 1998 draft.
And though his dustup with Tortorella over his second-period benching in Boston occurred Dec.23, a five-game road trip brought the team through Canada for the first time since.
Lecavalier told reporters before Tuesday's game against the Senators the incident is forgotten and his working relationship with his coach is fine.
But when the Lightning stayed in Ottawa after the game and traveled to Montreal on Wednesday, a French-language paper reported the delay was because Lecavalier and Tortorella did not want to face reporters. The story also showed up on a well-read Canadian sports Web site.
Granted, there is a history there. Lecavalier and Tortorella have had a sometimes tense relationship since the 2001-02 season. So many were ready to believe it was about to hit critical mass and Tampa Bay changed its travel plans, which it hadn't.
"In an 82-game schedule, you run the gamut in trying to get players focused on the right path, and certain things happen where there is conflict," Tortorella said. "People want to jump on that. But all the things that go on, that's coaching.
"Do we forget about what the players have done and how they've matured? Of course not. Those are situations that happen through an eight-month grind. Then we forget about them and move on."
Oh, and about his players not being available to the Montreal media, Tortorella said, "We are going to run our itinerary what's best for the health of our club. If our people aren't available at the time they want, tough. ... "
Lecavalier said he wasn't sure how much media attention he would get today, when the Lightning faces the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"If I do, I'll say what I said in Ottawa and Montreal," he said. "It's over with. It happened two weeks ago."
Asked if he appreciated the way Lecavalier handled the situation, Tortorella said, "Absolutely, he handles a lot of things well for such a young man."
Lecavalier's teammates also handled it well. As reporters crowded around him in Montreal, players joked about having extra space. Defenseman Brad Lukowich yelled to reporters not to worry. He would answer all their questions after he showered.
"I think it's very unfair to Vinny to always be scrutinized like that," Tortorella said. "But it's always going to happen. Vinny knows that, and our team knows that. It's part of the baggage he carries as far as his name in Canada."
For Lecavalier, it all is part of the flavor of hockey in Canada.
"I love playing in Canada," he said. "You turn on the TV, and all they talk about is the game.
"I know there are little things they try to make into big things when they're not. But I have to do it. I have to answer their questions. It doesn't bother me. The only thing I want to do is go out there and play hard and help my team."