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Tortorella has his checklist ready

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2001


John Tortorella will keep a watchful eye on the Lightning's players this summer.

The coach expects them to touch base every two weeks to report on their conditioning, and he wants them to attend a skating and conditioning camp being held in Boston by skills coach Paul Vincent.

Tortorella also will note which players show up early for training camp. Not just a few days early, mind you, but a few weeks early.

The collective bargaining agreement with the players association prohibits teams from demanding players do anything during the summer. But, Tortorella said, "The player's attention to that type of detail shows us where that player wants to go in this organization. Are they blowing smoke, saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah,' or will they really do it?"

The coach had a good feeling last week after finishing the players' exit interviews.

"They are really looking forward to a clean slate," Tortorella said. "They're excited about the direction we are going as a team."

Tortorella said the direction has been well-established by the coaching staff, so when camp opens in September, ignorance will not be bliss.

"We don't want to hear, "I don't understand,' ' he said. "We've spent the past couple of months defining mind-set, accountability and attention to detail. The defining part is done. When camp starts next year, we expect it."

Expect a leaner and meaner camp, with about 40 players compared with this season's 61. There will be daily scrimmages and lots of conditioning. "We don't want to leave any stone unturned as far as conditioning," Tortorella said. "For a team at the bottom of the league, that's an edge you're going to have to have."

MORE WORLDLY ASSIGNMENTS: Lightning forward Kaspars Astashenko will play for Slovakia in the World Championships. Forward Thomas Ziegler will play for Switzerland. Tampa Bay has seven players in the tournament, April 28-May 13 in Germany, including Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier (Canada), Fredrik Modin (Sweden), Pavel Kubina (Czech Republic) and Alexander Kharitonov (Russia).

WHERE'S JAY?: Wednesday's Internet chat with assistant general manager Jay Feaster did not come off because a cable outside the Ice Palace was inadvertently cut by construction workers. The chat has not been rescheduled.

HIRSCH ON TV: Former Lightning radio play-by-play announcer Larry Hirsch will call Game 3 of the Stars-Oilers West quarterfinal at 8 tonight on ESPN2. "As I've told my friends," he said, " "Catch me for the first period, and if you want to go over for The Sopranos, catch that and then catch me for the third period.' "

MUZZLED: When Chris Gratton returns to Philadelphia, a fan who remembers his frustrating final season with the Flyers heckles him incessantly from behind the bench. When Gratton scored Wednesday to help the Sabres to a 2-1 victory in the opening game of their East quarterfinal series, the fan stayed quiet.

"He kind of laid off for a couple of shifts, so that was nice," Gratton said.

Gratton, who also played for the Lightning, said it was "unfortunate" he could not stay with the Flyers and didn't gloat when asked about his goal.

"Any time you score in this league, it's gratifying," he said. "Whether or not it's against your former teammates, it's a good feeling."

PARTING SHOT: Just so everyone knew he wasn't to blame for Boston's failure to make the playoffs (a debatable point), Mike Keenan took a shot at Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell.

"I think he doesn't have a full realization of what it takes to turn a team around, the kind of patience you need to turn around the attitudes of a group of people," said Keenan, dismissed as coach last week when the team declined to exercise its option on his contract.

ODDS AND ENDS: Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said his team is better than the one that got to last season's Stanley Cup final. "Are we better than '99?" Hitchcock said of the team that won the Stanley Cup. "I don't know, but we're going to have the opportunity to find out." ... Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor put green streaks in his hair to kick off the series against the Oilers. "The guys are bugging me that I lived in Los Angeles too long," said Sydor, who also played for the Kings. ... Bill Houlder's new contract with the Predators pays $1-million next season, a cut of $450,000. But the former Lightning defenseman, deemed too slow for Tampa Bay, said he's happy in a situation in which he averaged 21:12 of ice time, second-most on the team. "I'm happy to stay," the 34-year-old said, "and it's a relief not to have it hanging over your head."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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