Spotlight on the Opponent: John Tortorella

What: Vancouver at Detroit
When: Monday, February 3, 7:30pm (TV: FSD)

Hockey players and coaches are typically known for their humility, their “aww, shucks” demeanor and for being approachable.

Reasons for this are varied, though the one I’ve often clung to is that so many of them hail from tiny towns in North America and even Europe. Their upbringings have mostly been unassuming and not filled with money and largess—for the most part.

Then there’s Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella.

“Torts,” as they call him, is no wallflower. In a sport where the coaches are known for changing expressions as often as we change the oil in our car, Tortorella doesn’t leave anyone guessing as to what his emotions are at any given moment.

Tortorella mixes it up with officials, the media and even other coaches.

So it was no surprise, really, that Torts was the NHL coach who blew his top a couple weeks ago and ended up getting suspended (without pay) for 15 days.

The incident occurred after the Calgary Flames and coach Bob Hartley put out a fourth line of players of ill repute to start their game against the Canucks on January 18.

You know what happened. Mere seconds after the puck was dropped, all 10 skaters on the ice squared off in a line brawl.

Torts didn’t like it.

He took his displeasure out on Hartley verbally, jawing at the Flames coach over the glass partition separating the two benches.

But Tortorella didn’t stop there. Hence the suspension.

After the first period, Tortorella tried to bull his way into the Flames locker room. It’s unclear what he intended to do, once he got in there.

It didn’t matter, as Torts was forcibly shoved away from the locker room door, though Flames goalie coach Clint Malarchuk, who nearly lost his life as a player when his jugular vein was cut by a skate, did emerge, annoyed at Tortorella’s antics. But Malarchuk didn’t come near Tortorella as the Canucks coach was driven back. Security cameras stationed in the hallway captured the action.

For the ill-advised attempt at locker room invasion, the league suspended Tortorella for 15 days.

That suspension ended just in time for the Canucks’ visit to Detroit tonight. Torts will be behind the Vancouver bench.

To hear him tell it, Tortorella has learned his lesson.

“It hasn’t been a great two weeks,” Tortorella said Monday morning on “It’s been very embarrassing for my family, myself and more importantly everybody else around me that I’m supposed to represent.”

But that isn’t to say that Torts is suddenly going to become the second coming of steel-jawed, expression-less Scotty Bowman behind the bench, either. But he does acknowledge a need to channel his passion better.

Can he do it? Leopards don’t change their spots, as they say. But maybe they can be less…mean.

“I let a lot of people down,” Tortorella said. “I have to make amends here by getting back at this. I’m going to be who I am. I just can’t go off the rails as I did.

“Off the rails? I was off the country.”

If you’re going to the game tonight at the Joe, don’t expect to see a muted version of Tortorella. That’s not who he is, nor is it what he will ever be.

Only time will tell if the incident against the Flames will have any long-term effect on how Torts conducts himself and whether he is able to harness that passion.

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