There is almost nothing that replaces simple good ole’ fashion intensity. As a Columbus gal, The Blue Jackets and the Buckeyes are a staple in my home. Yes, I made sure my kids learned the OSU fight song while they were in Kindergarten. I have a plethora of OSU gear, I follow the recruiting process. You know, the Columbus norm. My oldest son, however, is responsible for any amount of Blue Jacket knowledge I now have. A dedicated fan since high school, he is the ultimate CBJ supporter. He stayed with them through thick and thin. A true, blue fan. As a Military guy, I made sure he had CBJ items from home regardless where he was stationed. The CBJ was a piece of Columbus that felt consistent to him. Unfortunately, their spotty performance was also consistent. Regardless, he maintained his steadfast loyalty. That is what we do here in the Midwest. We complain about our teams, we rally behind them, we yell at them, we brag about them – but we always stay loyal to them.
Imagine the frustration, then, when the newly formed CBJ dream team began to fall apart quickly. First, a loss. Then two. Then, 4. Then – it was 0-7. And, in one bold move, we lost our beloved Coach Richards. If I saw it coming, certainly Coach Richards did, too. The problem is – everyone loved him. But, of course, loving a coach doesn’t go far in securing their job when their pro-team is 0-7. So, he got canned. And, in another bold move, in came the one man show: Tortorella. At worst, he would be instant buzz. Instant interest. Instant motivation. At best, he would teach the talented roster how to play together and get the season on track.
I can’t lie. I was excited by the change. It was an interesting choice and it certainly wasn’t a conservative one. So, as his first game as coach started last night, there I was, on my couch – glass of wine in hand. I wasn’t sure if I would be drinking out of celebration OR frustration. Regardless, I was ready.
By the final buzzer, the results were in. No, we didn’t win. The record is now 0-8. Sometimes, though, the score can be deceiving. With only one day at the helm, it would have been a bit much to expect that Tortortella, even with his fast talking, edgy manner, could come in and miracle a sinking ship to rise above the waves. There WAS a difference, though. It was palatable. There was a fierceness to the play last night. The players were fast, energized, edgy. The still made mistakes and missed some opportunities but, overall, they didn’t look defeated. They did’t play defeated.
As a coach, I was intrigued. What was the difference? I fought off my much needed sleep to hear what the players had to say int he after game interviews. It seemed as though they all said the same two things:
- #1) Tortorella expects fast skating. Everything is intense. Everything is quick.” His strategy was simple: Relentless, fast, physical hockey.
- #2) They were expected to earn their ice time. Period. Quite frankly, he was willing to bench anyone who he felt wasn’t performing the way he expected. AND – he did. Benching one of our best players the last five minutes of the game sent a powerful honey badger type of message to the players: He didn’t give a “s*** what you had done – only what you were doing.
What an interesting observation. It’s too early for anything fancy. The analytics and breakdowns will come later. Last night the change was simple – just good ole’ fashioned coaching. Watching the response he got from those players in less than 24 hours reminded me of some important coaching basics. While we all seem to want the latest and greatest ways of training athletes, the new miracle method of getting our athletes to merge into one team, the 10,000 hours of practice that authors tell us our athletes need… we should never underestimate old fashioned effort. Hard hitting, fast moving, intense training. And, most importantly, we cannot overlook the number one rule of play. If you don’t perform, you are on the bench. Clearly the youth and middle school years are different but once an athlete is hitting the Varisty level of play – they have to earn it. Every off-season. Every practice. Every game. And, coaches? Take a lesson from the Torts: Be the decision maker. Be the leader. Make the hard decisions.
I don’t know how our CBJ season will unfold. I do know, however, that if there seems to be a coach out there that can reign it in and make it happen – it is our newly appointed, foul mouthed, heavy handed, overly opioniated and demanding coach. He is just the prescription that this city needed. Welcome, to Columbus, Torts. Now, go get us some Freaking Wins.