By Guest Blogger Chris “Gootz” Hoeler
As the New York Rangers got their first home win of the season against the San Jose Sharks on Monday night, it was the first time the Rangers played even close to a full 60 minutes this season. However, the story of what happened next has the hockey world buzzing. After the game, Joe Thornton said that the Rangers were the softest team they had played on their recent road trip and that they should have beaten them.
First of all, the Sharks and Rangers had the same number of hits in the game with 26 apiece, so it is not like the Sharks really are prescribing to a crash and bang mentality. Not to mention, this is coming from a guy who did not register one hit in the game. Pot calling the kettle black, Joe?
Secondly, it was enough to win. In fact, the Rangers controlled play for most of the game outside of a shift or two where the Sharks were buzzing in the Rangers’ defensive zone. New York took it to the Sharks and got a forecheck going. They had puck possession and it led to offensive chances, which ended up in the back of the net. The hustle and work ethic of the Rangers outdid the Sharks who looked flat at the end of a road trip. So if the Rangers did in fact play “soft” as Thornton described, then his team is even softer for not being able to take advantage of this apparent attribute Joe has thrown out.
But the best response came from Rangers’ Head Coach John Tortorella, who brushed the comments away the night of the game simply because he had not confirmed himself that Joe had said that. The next morning at practice was vintage Torts, as he went after Thornton:
“Joe’s a heck of a player, but here’s a player popping off about our team, and Joe hasn’t won a goddamn thing in this league. He could go down as a player, being one of the better players in our league never to win anything. So what he should do is just shut up.”
There is more to the quote but you get the point. All I have to say at this point is that I am glad Tortorella said this. This season has been turbulent thus far and John has been very critical of the team’s play the last few weeks. That being said, he will be the first guy to defend his team, and he did. The Rangers pride themselves on being a physical team and having a high work ethic. Thornton took shots at those and John fired right back. Having been in hockey for a few years now, I know that people who are involved with the sport are not at all afraid to speak their mind even if it can be something incendiary.
Over the last day or so, I have seen many Rangers’ fans who disagree with Tortorella’s comments and believe he should have just told Joe to look at the outcome of the game. While I would have been fine with that, I absolutely love what he has done here. Someone takes a shot at a team that won and the coach fires back to defend his players. If anything, this shows how much this coaching staff believes in the players on this team and Tortorella was not going to let anyone put a damper on the best game of the season for New York Rangers.
It is good to have conflict and drama in sports. Having characters that have a certain persona about them is what makes things even more interesting. It is unfortunate that almost every athlete nowadays is just filled with clichés and gives that safe answer everyone expects to hear. I will take fiery personalities and conflicts any day over the bland interviews athletes give now. So nice job Torts—well played and you showed how much you believe in these guys who are in Broadway Blue despite the very up and down start. It makes fans like me believe more in the players as well.
Chris Hoeler is the assistant director of player personnel for the Danbury Whalers of the Federal Hockey League. He has been a fan of the New York Rangers his entire life.