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Former Lightning Coach John Tortorella poised to make history

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Tampa Bay Lightning fans will remember John Tortorella. In 2004, he coached the Lightning to their one and only Stanley Cup, defeating the Calgary Flames, four games to three.

Trailing three games to two, Tampa Bay won Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at what was then the St. Pete Times Forum. Calling the games for ABC was Sarasota resident Gary Thorne, Bill Clement and John Davidson.

Davidson and Tortorella would join forces in Columbus, Ohio a decade later to form a partnership that would change both of their lives. On Thursday night, Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets will try to do something only one other team in history has accomplished: 17 straight wins.

A lot has happened to Tortorella between the historic night of June 7, 2004 when the Stanley Cup was hoisted over the head of the coach and his jubilant players, and today. He won the Jack Adams Award as National Hockey League Coach of the Year in 2004 and is favored to win it this year, but it has been a long road for him.

His tenure in Tampa Bay was winding down when he told a New York Post reporter to “get the **** out of here” in 2007. One year later he was fired and moved on to the New York Rangers.

During his five years in Gotham, the Rangers were respectable, but made it to the conference finals only one time. Unfortunately, he is best remembered for an incident in Washington where he tossed a water bottle and brandished a hockey stick to a taunting Capitals’ fan.

After he was fired in New York, Tortorella spent one disastrous season in Vancouver, where the Canucks missed the playoffs in 2014, their first absence in seven seasons.  Tortorella again made the wrong kind of news when he tried to get into the Calgary Flames’ locker room between periods of a game. The brawl that ensued led to a 15-day suspension.

By 2012, John Davidson was President of Hockey Operations for the Blue Jackets. After firing Todd Richards just seven games (all losses) into the 2015-16 season, Davidson hired Tortorella. The Jackets showed some promise, but did not make the playoffs.

Tortorella was tapped to coach Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey event last fall. True to his nature, he made news, but what he did earned the support of many Americans who were aware of it.

He said if any of his players sat during the national anthem, they would be “benched.” That turned out to be the least of his worries as Team USA failed to win a game.

This year’s Blue Jackets team got off to a respectable 11-5-4 start. On November 29, the Lightning came to Columbus and left with a 5-1 defeat. That was the first in a string of 16 consecutive wins for the Blue Jackets.

On Thursday, Tortorella and Columbus will try to match the consecutive wins record held by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins. That team was led by Mario Lemieux and coached by the legendary Scotty Bowman.

While Tortorella has eight fewer Stanley Cups than Bowman, a win on Thursday would have him standing next to hockey royalty for good reason. No one, other than Tortorella, Davidson and a few others saw this team come together this fast.

He has instilled a strong work ethic in a team devoid of superstars. He likes to call them a “group of focused businessmen.”

“They’ve accepted the thought of coming to work every day and worrying about that day, worrying about that game and not worrying about what happened, what’s ahead of us,” he told local media. “That’s where we are right now. We’re becoming pretty good pros.”

If the streak continues for another week, the Lightning would have the chance to be the ones to start and end it. The Blue Jackets visit Amalie Arena on Friday the 13th.

Thirteen years after winning a Stanley Cup, it appears John Tortorella has come full circle.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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