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The Bench Bosses

'Classic' boasts coaches capable of stealing show

Monday, 01.2.2012 / 9:35 PM ET / News
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The Bench Bosses
Laviolette talks with Zac Rinaldo during the Flyers Winter Classic practice on Jan. 1
PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Rupp joined the New York Rangers this summer and he knew with John Tortorella in charge, he was going to play for a demanding coach.

It also didn't take long for his diagnosis of the situation to be confirmed.

"You may think you have a little bit of a longer leash because you are new to the team, but after the first game he gave it to me pretty good in front of the boys," Rangers forward Mike Rupp said. "That's how he is, but you appreciate it as a player because he does it throughout the lineup and he doesn't wait until it is a problem."

Tortorella's reputation is well-earned, but so is his status as one of the NHL's top coaches. He has won 356 games, more than any other American-born coach in League history. The man who will stand behind the opposing bench Monday in the Bridgestone 2012 NHL Winter Classic -- Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette -- has the second-most with 341.

"It is great for American hockey to have these two guys coaching in the Winter Classic," said Flyers assistant coach Joe Mullen, who is one of three American-born players to score 500 goals in the NHL. "Both have had a lot of success in the League, so they definitely both deserve to be here."

They have shared the spotlight that comes with having a team play in this event -- being the subject of HBO's 24/7 documentary series, plus the extra media attention from the past couple of days here at Citizens Bank Park.

Both have been portrayed as coaches who aren't afraid to let their players know how they feel during the behind-the-scenes look HBO's cameras have provided. Tortorella has always had that reputation, but Laviolette has shown he can be just as demanding.

"They're both Boston guys, and they have that passion that they wear on their sleeves," Flyers forward Jody Shelley said. "[Laviolette] is more of a tactician and maybe a little more Xs and Os, but it is still the same type of passion."

Shelley played for Tortorella and the Rangers at the end of the 2009-10 season. He was traded to the Rangers from San Jose in February and appeared in 21 games for New York.

The Rangers  lost to the Flyers in a shootout in the last game of the 2009-10 season to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Laviolette's team made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final.

"I loved [playing for Tortorella]," Shelley said. "He was a no-gray area guy. He keeps everyone accountable as a leader. He got the most out of us as players. I got a lot of respect for him because he has such passion for the game and you always had a sense as one of his players that he really cared for you. I think he really does a good job."

Laviolette grew up in Franklin, Mass., a town of about 32,000 people less than 30 miles to the southwest of Boston where Tortorella was born. When the NHL returned after missing a year because of a work stoppage, it was Laviolette's Carolina Hurricanes who were able to adapt to the new rules on the ice and the implementation of a salary cap and capture the Stanley Cup in 2006.

He may not have Tortorella's reputation as an emotional guy, but Mullen said Laviolette isn't lacking in that department.

"He's pretty much like that all the time," Mullen said. "I've watched him through the years and you can see he's pretty intense on the bench. Just like Torts; who everyone can see is pretty intense on the bench. It usually carries over into the dressing room."

When Tortorella was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he passed "Badger" Bob Johnson on the list for most NHL victories by an American-born coach. Laviolette moved in front of Tortorella for about four months after Tortorella was fired by the Lightning, but Tortorella has since regained the lead and currently has a 15-win cushion.

Those two coaches represent 40 percent of the American-born head coaches who have claimed the Stanley Cup. Bill Stewart was the first in 1938, and Johnson was the second in 1991. Tortorella won in 2004 before Laviolette joined him with a championship two years later. Dan Bylsma became the fifth in 2009.

Both Tortorella and Laviolette also have experience with the United States national team. Laviolette played in the 1988 and 1994 Winter Olympics, and was the head coach for the U.S. in Turin, Italy in 2006. Tortorella was an assistant coach for the silver-medal winning Americans in Vancouver during the 2010 games.

If the NHL chooses to participate in the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, Laviolette and Tortorella would have to be among the favorites to coach that team, joining a list that would also feature Bylsma.

Both the Rangers and Flyers are among the Eastern Conference elite in the first half of this season, and should compete -- along with Bylsma's Penguins -- for the Atlantic Division crown and possibly the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

And, now, they will get to show off their coaching acumen before a national TV audience in a setting that will intrique even the most casual fan.

"The event itself I think is phenomenal for hockey," Laviolette said. "I think what's going to take place, what took place last night and what takes place tomorrow, I think the way that HBO has come in, and last year and this year, given -- whether you're a hockey fan or not -- an inside look at how professional teams run, I think it's been tremendous for the sport. We feel fortunate because we've been ... three years, we get two kicks at it and one now in Philadelphia in front of our fans. I think the day will be phenomenal, and I think the event is phenomenal, as well."

Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer

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