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No team to coach, no grass to mow

John Tortorella aches to get the Lightning back on the ice, but for now he draws up plays, gives speeches and waits for his lawn to grow.

By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
Published January 14, 2005

TAMPA - With no present, all John Tortorella can do is live in the past and prepare for the future.

He drops off son Nick at school each morning and heads to his office at the St. Pete Times Forum. No players are coming. No game is scheduled. But Tortorella starts coaching.

Six white legal pads full of scribbles and diagrams cover his desk. A grease board with 16 perplexing abbreviations representing intricate hockey tactics surround a few motivational sayings. Videotapes are scattered throughout the office.

He's searching for a way to reinvent the wheel or, in this case, come up with a blueprint for defending the Stanley Cup. So far, he hasn't pulled out his hair, but he has scratched out just about every item on his "to do" list.

"I think I've trimmed everything I possibly could trim in the back yard," Tortorella said. "We fired our guy who cuts the grass and I cut the grass now. I'm upset because it has been cold and grass doesn't grow."

He travels about town giving motivational speeches and raising money for various charities. He has called coaches who have won championships (Bucs coaches Jon Gruden and Monte Kiffin, hockey legends Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour) and asked about the pitfalls of repeating. He has read, re-read and, before the lockout, told his players to read Pat Riley's book, The Winner Within. His big project has been producing a library of tapes with video coach Nigel Kirwan, breaking down everything that goes into winning short of how to lace one's skates.

But at the end of the day, the NHL lockout has left the coach without a team, like a chef preparing a meal that no one will eat.

"I consider myself locked out," Tortorella said.

But whether the lockout ends today, next week or next year, Tortorella will be prepared to enter his fifth season with the Lightning. He's holding out hope there will be a season. He drew up a 30-day training camp schedule. Then a two-week one. He's working on a one-week schedule. He knows a good start is critical in a short season, if there is a short season, that is.

The bulk of his work day, two to three hours, is reviewing tape.

"It's probably the most enjoyable part of the day," Tortorella said.

He has watched the 2003-04 Lightning regular season. He has reviewed each playoff game three or four times. He still gets nervous when he watches Game 3 against the Islanders. He still gets nauseous when he watches Game 6 against the Flyers. He still gets goose bumps when he watches Game 6 against the Flames.

"Even after watching it," Tortorella said, "I still think to myself, "Can you believe it? We won the Stanley Cup.' "

But these days, Tortorella has no team to defend a Cup. Many are scattered throughout Europe playing what Tortorella calls "Ice Capades," leagues absent of contact but full of bad habits. He has no idea when the lockout will end, but he is worried that the team that won the Cup will not be the same team that shows up for the Lightning's next training camp.

"I'm scared," Tortorella said. "I think we're going to have to reteach our players. I think it's going to be an awful brand of hockey when (the NHL returns) because (the lockout) has gone on for so long.

"My guys are going to be retaught. They're going to be come at hard because I know the bad habits are going to be there."

He has a warning for his players whenever they return: "Be ready."

Tortorella has been ready for months.

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