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Well-wishers abound after Ludzik gets news

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 8, 2001


CHICAGO -- Steve Ludzik didn't realize he had so many friends.

The Lightning's former coach said he received "some of the greatest phone calls" Sunday from those who wanted to wish him well the day after he was fired.

Not all the calls came from the usual suspects.

"I'm known as a guy that referees don't like, but I got three or four calls from NHL refs," Ludzik said. "I thought that was a breath of fresh air."

Even so, Ludzik's emotions were heavy.

"I guess I didn't do the job they wanted me to, and I'm sorry," Ludzik said. "This is going to be a great, great team one day and people won't even remember Steve Ludzik, and that's too bad. But that's the way she goes."

Ludzik said he would not watch Sunday night's game against the Blackhawks at the United Center, the first for new coach John Tortorella, but added, "I hope we pound the blazes out of the Blackhawks."

Ludzik said he will coach again.

"Damn right I will. Life's full of ups and downs, but it's 15 rounds. You get knocked down, and the one that gets back on his feet is the one that keeps winning."

Ludzik said he will sell the family's recently built home in Valrico. The family's "home base" is Toronto.

"He loved this team," Ludzik's wife, Mary Ann, said. "He truly liked all the guys. Yes, this hurts, but he'll get stronger because of it."

NEW START: The coaches may have changed, but the challenges are the same.

Tampa Bay, eight points out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, plays 10 of 15 January games on the road. "This is a very important month as to where we are," said Tortorella, who was promoted from associate coach. "Is there still a light at the end of the tunnel or are we out of it?"

Tortorella said defensive zone play needs immediate improvement. Winning the one-on-one battles for the puck along the boards is a "big problem." And he wants his defense to play tougher.

"You don't win in this league unless you play defense, and that means body contact," he said. "They have to play at the net and play bigger." ON THE DOTTED LINE: Assistant general manager Jay Feaster said Tortorella signed a contract that takes him through the 2002-03 season.

BOTTLED EMOTIONS: Lightning forward Brian Holzinger, who played for Tortorella in 1995-96, when the coach led Rochester to the AHL championship, said Tortorella has toned down his act.

In one of Holzinger's first games with the Americans, Tortorella threw a water bottle on the ice to protest a referee's call and was ejected. Tortorella did not have an assistant, so Holzinger figured the team would forfeit.

"But the guys were like, 'No, that's the third or fourth time he's done that this year. We just coach ourselves,' " Holzinger said.

Tortorella laughed at the story.

"I think I've learned," he said. "Bench manner is very important, especially with this team. To rile them up because your emotions are out of control is not going to help.

"There's a fine line. You need to show them that you care about them, but you need to work with them through the peaks and valleys."

ODDS AND ENDS: At Chicago's request, the Lightning wore its home white uniforms. ... The Lightning recalled forward Kaspars Astashenko from the IHL's Detroit Vipers. ... Lightning defenseman Sergey Gusev and forwards Stan Drulia and Sheldon Keefe were healthy scratches.

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