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Step right up, don't be shy

New coach will emphasize learning to his young team.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001


CHICAGO -- John Tortorella wants the Lightning players to ask questions.

Don't be shy, Tortorella told them Saturday in their first meeting since he was named to replace the fired Steve Ludzik.

"Don't be embarrassed, because the guy beside you probably wants to know the same thing."

Tampa Bay's former associate coach said give and take is a great way to learn and it solidifies the notion that players and coaches are working together.

"You don't win in this league unless you create passion in the locker room," Tortorella said. "It doesn't come from the coaches. It has to come from one another."

The speech sounded familiar to Lightning forward Brian Holzinger, who played for Tortorella in 1995-96, when the Rochester Americans won the AHL's Calder Cup championship.

"He just wants to re-emphasize we're all part of this," Holzinger said. "One guy (Ludzik) took the fall, but we all can get ourselves out of it."

Tortorella has paid his dues. The 42-year-old Boston native spent nine-plus years as an NHL assistant with the Sabres, Coyotes, Rangers and Lightning. He went 0-3-1 as the Rangers coach last season, closing the season after John Muckler was fired.

General manager Rick Dudley said he did not hire Tortorella to replace Ludzik.

"We hired him to help Ludzy because of the experience he's got in situations like that," Dudley said.

Tortorella, who said he is not sure about hiring an assistant to join associate coach John Torchetti, is most excited about coaching and teaching the NHL's youngest team.

"I want this to be a puck-pursuing team," he said. "I want to use our strength, which is team speed; and getting the puck back when we don't have it. That doesn't always have to happen in the defensive zone."

Americans president Steve Donner said Tortorella will coach the way he did in Rochester.

"He was always in favor of short, intense practices and an aggressiveforechecking style," Donner said. "I saw the Lightning in early November and I thought John would enjoy coaching them. They're a young team, not afraid to work hard and they have to be overachievers to win. I think that fits his persona."

And remember, Tortorella said, hockey is a game.

"You have to have some fun with them," he said. "In this day and age, it's not the adversarial coach and players. The players and coaches are partners."

A partnership he said can be successful.

"The Lightning has been s--- on a little bit for a number of years," Tortorella said. "The only way we have to go is up."

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