Hitch on Torts' tirade: 'It's smart'

Updated: May 13, 2004, 12:40 PM ET
By Rob Parent | Special to ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- You can almost see the coaching consultant, elated with the progress of this relatively new student.

Nikolai Khabibulin
As Game 2 came to a close, Nikolai Khabibulin and the rest of the Bolts were wilting in the spotlight.
"Hey, Johnny babe, nice idea. Loved the mix of that chicken stuff obscenity. And it was real man, seriously real. You spoke to the cameras, babe. You moved me man, really moved me."

So what did the all too-real rant by Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella -- who focused into the cameras Wednesday and literally told Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock to "shut yer yap!" -- do for his players?

Well, he either revved them up on the eve of a pivotal Game 3 of their Eastern Conference finals series between the teams ... or he has them wondering if he's gone completely loco.

Ah, but any coaching chameleon would tell you that it's all just part of the passion play called the Stanley Cup playoffs, eh?

"It goes on all the time," said Hitchcock, who seemed to accept Tortorella's spitted suggestion with good humor ... then went home and locked his doors. "Any coach that says he doesn't do it is not telling the truth."

If you don't believe Hitchcock, just consult that little-known bible of coaching gamesmanship, "Whine While You Work," authored by the NBA's guru of boo-hoo, Larry Brown. It states that a manic, dramatic turn by an allegedly angry coach takes an unwanted spotlight off a team under the gun and puts the focus on the coach instead of on the players, where it should be.

Tortorella tried to do this same thing last year but found that changing goalies while facing elimination probably isn't the best of discretionary distraction acts. But this time, after two self-doubting days in the locker room of a team clubbed 6-2 and heading to Philadelphia, where the Flyers were undefeated through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Tortorella turned in a bravura monologue of his own.

Stopping a post-practice media session in mid-stream, Tortorella intoned a perfectly projected, "Can I say something here?"

Some coincidence there, since Hitchcock had used the same question Monday night to issue a postgame complaint of his own about the way the St. Pete Times Forum ArenaVision was "inciting the fans" by incessantly replaying a Donald Brashear cheapshot on Tim Taylor.

But Tortorella kept his invective focused on the enemy rather than the citizens. At first, he pointed a forked tongue right at Flyers general manager Bob Clarke, saying he's already started playing the officials by "whining about this, that, the other thing."

Nah ... Clarkie?

Then Tortorella really let loose at what really was his intended target.

"We know Hitch is going to be talking about anything that is on his mind, and will talk to anybody that will listen to him," Tortorella said to some suddenly awakening media members. "As far as some of the dialogue that goes on within a series, we accept that. It's something that can't bother us and won't bother us. It won't hurt us in our preparation. But when a coach starts bringing that dialogue onto the ice from behind the bench ... to the players, it's wrong. The last time I looked he's wearing a suit back there. The same kind of suit I'm wearing."

Well, the cut may be a little different, but we digress ...

"He's not in the battle of two quality teams here," Tortorella said louder. "He should shut his yap. It's not about him. We understand how Philly works as far as the dialogue that goes on with all this stuff. But when it comes from a coach to an opposing player, it's disrespectful and it's wrong. It's gutless. That's got to stop. Park your ego and shove it in your pocket. It's wrong and it's chicken (excrement)."

Wow, excellent dramatic effect, John. And aromatic, too. Now what the hell are you yelling about again?

Through intrepid questioning by the Bermuda short microphone crowd, it was learned that after Game 2 had deteriorated into gangland warfare, replete with slashes to the backs of legs and Brashear elbows to any Bolt dolt that came near him, Hitchcock had launched "threats" at one of Tortorella's players -- defenseman Brad Lukowich, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas and is still one of his favorite sarcasm targets.

According to those unnamed witnesses in the Tampa locker room, Hitchcock was yelling at Lukowich and saying he was going to sic Brashear on him. Then he did.

Hitchcock didn't want to be quoted directly in response to the claim. Just suffice it to say that he's no chicken when it comes to creatively spicing up a denial.

An expert himself at decidedly distracting diatribes this time of year -- just ask the media mavens in Ottawa, who are still trying to figure out what Hitchcock was yelling about last year -- Hitchcock was first told that Tortorella had imploded at his own interview session early Wednesday afternoon.

A smile tugging at his lip, Hitchcock answered: "John just needs to mind his own business. ... Next?"

What happened next is Hitchcock took the time to read a transcript of Tortorella's damning discourse, and added, "It was my thought John was not commenting on anything about the opposition. That is what he said to the press. Now is that OK when you win the first game and lose the second game? Now he is commenting about Bobby Clarke and Ken Hitchcock?"

Hitchcock said he was sure Tortorella's comments were, "just the usual chirping. It's what happens when you get days between games. Everybody's trying to deflect. It's smart. It's change the record, change the subject and get people pointed in a different direction."

That would include formerly impenetrable Lightning goalie Nikolai Kahbibulin, who was riddled in Game 2 for four goals on 12 Flyers shots. And top liners Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Ruslan Fedotenko, who were seriously outplayed in by the Keith Primeau line the Flyers will again match them up against in Game 3.

But the full depth of Tortorella's act hadn't yet been played to Hitchcock. He finally got a snippet of it on a tape during a live sports writer gab show on Comcast SportsNet, a cable channel owned by the same world-conquering company that owns the Flyers.

All for one and all for fun, you know.

So back to that tape ... Coach Tortorella, have you ever yelled at the other team's players?

"Never, and I never will," Tortorella said. "I'm not in the battle. He's not in the battle. (So) shut yer yap."

With that, Tortorella literally raised his eyelids and strode away from the gleeful guys in the Hawaiian shirts holding notepads.

Cut back to Comcast ... Hey Hitch, you offended by all that?

"Not really," Hitchcock said, "but if he's not in the battle then get off the bench and pay 20 bucks to get a ticket. What I find amazing here is that this was the same fella that commented that he wasn't going to comment on anything about the other team. After one loss, now he's commenting on everything."

Both Hitchcock and Clarke said they don't know Tortorella personally, though the caffeinated coach added, "Probably under different circumstances we might have a Starbucks together, who knows?"

Yeah, right. And playoff tickets cost $20, too.

But who needs truth in advertising a hockey playoff game when the alternative is so much more entertaining?

Rob Parent of the Delaware County (Pa.) Times is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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