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War of the words: Yap flap won't die

By TOM JONES
Published November 14, 2005


TAMPA - President Kennedy had that whole "Ask not what your country can do for you ... " thing. Abe talked about "Four score and seven years ago ... "

What does the Lightning have?

Shut your yap!

Those are the most famous three words in Lightning history.

They were barked by Lightning coach John Tortorella between Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference final against the Flyers during the 2004 Stanley Cup run.

Fed up that Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock allegedly mouthed off to one of his players during a 6-2 Flyers win that evened the series at 1, Tortorella used the next day to fire back at Hitchcock. His message rambled on for several minutes but was summed up in three little words.

Shut your yap!

Tonight, for the first time since the grueling seven-game series, Tortorella's Lightning and Hitchcock's Flyers face off.

"I thought it was fantastic," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said about Tortorella's little speech. "At that time, it took the pressure off of our hockey club."

Looking back, Tortorella's rant seemed born of design, not anger.

"It took away a lot of distractions for us," center Vinny Lecavalier said. "All the emphasis was on that instead of what we did wrong in the previous game. So I think it was great. Funny, too."

Tortorella's plan worked. The media spent the 24 hours before Game 3 talking about Tortorella and the Flyers' response instead of bombarding Lightning players with questions about their play. When the players arrived by bus at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia for Game 3, a game the Lightning won, an angry mob of fans ignored them.

"They saved it all for Torts," Feaster said. "And then it rained down pretty good."

Since then, shut your yap has become a Lightning catchphrase. Lightning players admit it's a fail-safe comeback in the locker room when one player teases another.

"I even saw T-shirts at our (charity) fishing derby that said, "Shut your yap,"' Feaster said.

While Tortorella's speech was part of a well-orchestrated plan to take the heat off his team, there did seem to be an underlying hostility between Tortorella and Hitchcock. Funny thing is, the two aren't all that different.

"I'd say very similar," said Lightning defenseman Darryl Sydor, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas. "Both are demanding, very vocal. Hitch wants the best out of you and knows what buttons to push. Torts is kind of the same way."

On the outside, Hitchcock appears to be a big, friendly teddy bear. Unlike Tortorella, who often is gruff with the media, Hitchcock enjoys talking long and often to anyone with a microphone or tape recorder.

"Oh, he's the best guest speaker you can have," Sydor said. "He can talk about anything. Smooth talker. Real smooth.

"But he's a different man when he gets behind the bench."

Like Tortorella, Hitchcock is intense, demanding and not afraid to bruise feelings with a few harsh words.

"Hitch is more than just demanding," said Lightning forward Rob DiMaio, who also played for Hitchcock in Dallas as well as juniors. "My experiences with him were good at times and tough at others. But you can't argue with his success."

Neither Hitchcock nor Tortorella ever played in the NHL. Both paid coaching dues in the minors. Both have one Stanley Cup. Both have had major squabbles with star players. Both seem to have the ability to infuriate yet motivate at the same time.

"I wouldn't call (Hitchcock) a player's coach," said Lightning goalie Sean Burke, who played for Hitchcock in Philadelphia. "(Tortorella) is intense, but I think guys feel that they can go to him a little bit easier than they can go to Hitch."

Both are obsessed with preparation, each spending long hours holed up in their offices poring over videotape, trying to find the slightest nuance to gain an edge.

"Hockey is, I think, (Hitchcock's) life, so he's constantly thinking about it," Burke said. "I think John is the same thing. He works extremely hard and focuses on hockey probably most of the day other than when he's with his family, and maybe even then."

All that preparation leads to tonight's game, the first of four against one another this season. The teams were supposed to have a juicy season opener for 2004-05, but the lockout wiped out the season. Thus, the long-awaited rematch has been delayed until tonight.

So now, after all that time, what does Tortorella remember about those playoffs and his famous quotation?

"I'm not going there," Tortorella said. "I don't even think about what happened in the playoffs that year."

In other words, shut your yap!