Check the schedules of local pro teams and if there’s an unappealing game to be played shortly after Christmas, count on this: The rich guys with season tickets are going to put tickets to those games in gift envelopes for nephews and nieces.
I’m guessing there were many such Vikings tickets distributed for Sunday’s season finale with the Bears. And traditionally, a Wild match with the Columbus Blue Jackets occurring at this point in the season would have served the same purpose.
This is a franchise that has reached the playoffs twice in 15 seasons. This is a team that finished last in its eight-team division with 76 points last season.
John Tortorella was brought in to replace Todd Richards last October, after Columbus opened the 2015-16 season at 0-7. For Tortorella, the last-place finish was followed with a couple of weeks of ridicule in September, as the failed coach of Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey.
The Yanks played three games in that tournament and lost them all. The team’s lousy performance was accompanied by Tortorella’s usual caustic remarks, including barbs aimed at Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco quarterback who was not standing for the national anthem.
This might have made Tortorella a fine patriot in the minds of some, although it did nothing to convince his USA outfit to play a successful brand of hockey.
No doubt. As the rich guys were going through season tickets in October, they could not be blamed for earmarking the Blue Jackets tickets for the sister’s kids.
And that would have been a mistake. Tortorella got back to his team from the World Cup a couple of weeks before the opener, and he found in these youngish Blue Jackets a collection of players ready to embrace a high-velocity brand of hockey.
Tortorella won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 while offering this message to players: “Safe is death.”
Twelve years later, he saw enough talent and speed on the Blue Jackets to spread the same hockey gospel.
What the heck?
It’s Columbus, and if you institute an approach that doesn’t work, no one is going to notice until the Buckeyes football season is over anyway. OK, Richards did get fired on in October 2015, but you have to wonder if that news made the front sports page in the Columbus Dispatch.
These Blue Jackets played well through Thanksgiving, and then things turned ridiculous. They came into Saturday with 14 straight victories (two in shootouts) and had not lost in regulation since Nov. 23, Thanksgiving eve.
I’ve had a fondness for Tortorella ever since watching HBO’s “24/7” leading up to the 2012 Winter Classic. The opponents were the Rangers (Tortorella) and the Flyers (Peter Laviolette), and I’ve never heard as many F-bombs as the two coaches offered.
Frankly, as a fellow with somewhat of a cussing problem, I felt as if I was listening to the Michelangelo of cussing with Tortorella. As Jean Shepherd would suggest, Torts could weave a tapestry of obscenity.
Another admission: I’m not zeroed in on non-Wild games in the NHL on a nightly basis. When checking the NHL results in the morning newspaper this season, this has been a regular utterance:
“Look at Torts.”
And now here was Torts on Saturday night, taking on Bruce Boudreau and a Wild team with 12 straight wins (one in a shootout).
The Blue Jackets were much the better team in the first period, fought and scored in flurries in the second period, then held off a Wild surge for several minutes to start the third.
The final was Columbus 4, Wild 2. Fifteen in a row for the Blue Jackets.
The winning coach seemed happiest at how his team responded when the Wild’s Chris Stewart tried to change the momentum by fighting Josh Anderson early in the second period. This was followed immediately by a Matt Dumba-Matt Calvert battle, which led to game misconducts for a secondary fight.
“Great stuff; it probably started off the faceoff, but great stuff by our team,” Tortorella said. “Stewart’s a tough kid. Andy stood right in there with them. And Calvy didn’t hesitate for what happened there.
“It think it’s a good trade for us: We take one of their better D [Dumba] off the ice. We lose Calvy, a good player, but losing a D?
“I thought our bench stood 10 feet tall after that. And that gave us a little momentum for a couple of quick goals.”
Three months ago, Tortorella and his Team USA came out of Canada a foot tall after the World Cup flop. And now he has the Blue Jackets — THE Blue Jackets! — at 26-5-4 and standing 10 feet tall.
All together now: “Look at Torts.”