John Tortorella returned to Madison Square Garden Saturday with his Canucks for the first time 185 days after being summarily dismissed from a job he treasured.
Time and a continent’s worth of distance has not turned the notoriously hard-edged coach into a sentimentalist.
“I am going to coach this game, hopefully kick their ass and get out of here,” Tortorella said before his Canucks were blitzed 5-2 by the Rangers Saturday afternoon at the Garden.
Well, two out of three isn’t bad.
The homecoming — call it The Tortscoming, if you will — was “weird,” Tortorella admitted. For five years, he called the Garden home until he was shocked by general manager Glen Sather’s decision to fire him on May 29.
He was not out of work long. Vancouver introduced him as head coach on June 25. Tortorella replaced Alain Vigneault, whom the Rangers formally introduced as their 35th head coach in franchise history on June 21.
Even though it could be human nature for the spurned to turn their back on those that made the decision to walk away from a bond, Tortorella still professed to care about his former team even though he hasn’t tracked their progress over the course of the 2013-14 campaign.
“No, I haven’t quite honestly because I’m so damn busy trying to figure our team out,” Tortorella said, before explaining why he hasn’t completely detached himself from the Rangers.
“I don’t think you ever sever [ties with an organization]. I think some of the most important things when you’re all said and done with the game — coaching, playing, whatever — are the relationships. I don’t think you ever totally sever it.”
By any measure, Tortorella was reasonably successful with the Rangers. His .583 winning percentage is second in franchise history, and his 171 wins rank fourth behind Frank Boucher (181), Lester Patrick (281) and Emile Francis (342). The Rangers qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs four times during his tenure, and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011-12.
As satisfying as the on-ice accomplishments during his era were, Tortorella is prouder of the development of the organization’s prospects into consistent players. It is a task he does not have with the veteran-laden Canucks.
“You know how I feel about the process,” Tortorella said. “I talked about it here every day. It’s a big part in growing as a team. It’s been different for me [with the Canucks] because I think I can rely on them a little bit more. They have been well-coached; there are some really good veteran players there. It’s for them to understand me a little bit, how we coach and how we do our day-to-day business. I rely on them.
“When you’re dealing with young kids — and we had a lot of young kids here in New York — you’re putting them through the process [of becoming professionals] and not really listening to too much until you start seeing the two-way street. It’s a good group that has helped me and I’ve approached it a little bit differently in Vancouver.”
Following the loss, the Canucks boarded a charter to Raleigh for a Sunday afternoon date with the Hurricanes awaited. So there was not going to be time to reminisce with his former players.
Not that he would in the teeth of the season.
“They don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. We’re so wrapped up in our seasons,” Tortorella said. “We’re getting [on] a plane and going.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.