It was something of a surprise when it was announced that former head coach John Tortorella would be a participant in some of the scheduled activities for Sunday's "Hockey Day in Tampa Bay" event. Over the years, particularly since being fired after the 2007-08 season by former Lightning owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, a reputation as a dour, tough, hard-driven (and harder-driving) man emerged, punctuated by prickly interactions with certain members of the media and emotional outbursts and that he may not be inclined toward the "warm-and-fuzzy".
As such, it may come as something of a surprise that the man who led the Lightning to their greatest success remains fond of and sentimental toward the Lightning organization, the Tampa Bay region, and most importantly, the people who live here.
I, on behalf of Raw Charge, along with the Lightning's Michelle Gingras, got the opportunity to speak briefly with Tortorella between events Sunday at Amalie Arena...
MICHELLE GINGRAS (MG): So tell us a little about today and being part of it.
It was a blast. From the sled hockey, to the high school kids, the all-stars, with the police and the firemen and now this game coming up here (the Lightning Cup, between East Manatee and Mitchell high schools, won by East Manatee 10-3). Remember, that is the biggest part of what this team is about; the community. So its perfect timing for my wife and I because we haven't been back here in quite a while and we feel we're part of this community, and we're so happy they asked us to be involved.
MG: How did it feel to be behind the bench, giving these kids advice? I don't know how many of them wanted to listen, but...
(Laughs) Yeah, at that age they never listen. At THIS age (gestures towards Lightning locker room), even the professionals, they never listen either. It was fun. Just some of the questions, seeing them just have fun. That is what's at the grass roots and why all this going on here today is so important to the sport. Remember where this sport was when it first started (here), playing in a different rink out in a ... I forget what it was called (the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds), but how it has grown so much. It has a Stanley Cup in its history. It has a just a great team that has a chance this year. So all this stuff is important for that. I'm just glad we were able to be a part of it.
MG: In the battle of the badges game today, it held even more of a special meaning than it has in previous years (a portion of the proceeds from the event benefited the family of Tarpon Springs Officer Charles Kondek who was killed in the line of duty in December). Just to be a part of that. I know you met with the family...
Yeah, it was so emotional. It was... Yeah, I looked at her kids and with all the stuff going on in our world, it's frightening. And to see it up close today and personal and to see her, how she reacted... Those people, the policemen and the firemen and the people that protect us, they put a shadow over the sport thing. They put a shadow over the entertainers because that's what we are. That's the real stuff going on. That was... It was really cool but it was also sad for me, because of what has happened with that family. What we're doing for them here, hopefully the proceeds will help them.
MG: Overall, what would you say the biggest goal is of Hockey Day in Tampa Bay, is it the community building effort?
Yeah, that's what it's about. For me, it's just about being here in such a long time. I have Tampa Bay blood in me. We were here for seven years. My kids grew up here. Its great timing because it is about the community and we feel we're part of it and I'm glad we were involved.
MG: For you then, since it's been so long since you have been back and involved, have you seen it grow?
Oh yeah. I've been just watching and we have a lot of different friends here. Their kids are older and they're going through the high school years and playing on all the travel teams. It has certainly grown. Again, just to be a small part of it, it's nice.
CLARK BROOKS (CB): How fun is it for you to get involved in low stakes, but competitive hockey, where it's not life or death out there?
Wait a minute, wait a minute! I wanted our team to beat Andy (Dave Andreychuk) and I told them that! (Laughs) No, It was fun.
CB: I think he (Andreychuk) is something like 0-6 as a coach in games like these...
He's a brutal coach. You can tell. He didn't even know when to pull his goalie! (Laughs) But no, it's hard for me to come back to the rink because it's not my team that I'm coaching in here. But in this type of situation, it's nice because the team isn't here and it's just the grass roots. It's like people in the building that I know and that I've known for so many years that are working here. It's so nice to see them. It's been a really great day.
CB: And on behalf of those people, I'm sure that they're all thrilled that you chose to take part in this event. It means a lot.
There was no question. I'm just happy I was asked. The organization has treated my family so well right on through these years. To be able to do this, without being worried about coaching a hockey team, because I know I kind of get focused as a coach. With the situation I'm in right now, it's nice to be involved so we're very thankful.