John Tortorella is the winningest coach in Columbus Blue Jackets history, but fans will tell you, he also is the most memorable. He is blunt and tells you how he sees it. This has led to a fair share of memorable moments in his tenure. Whether it’s on the ice or in the pressroom, there are plenty of things he has said or done that will be remembered for a long time. This article is a countdown of his top five most memorable moments, some good and some bad, and there will be some honorable mentions too.
#5: Tortorella Says “This Room Smells of BO”
The No. 5 memorable moment on the list came as Tortorella was wrapping up his postgame press conference after the Blue Jackets’ Game 1 playoff win over the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019. At the end of questions, he said, “I’ll tell you right now, this room smells of BO.”
The room of reporters burst into laughter, and one asked if it was him. Tortorella was quick to attest it wasn’t him and that he walked into it. He then asked, “So does that end this thing here?” He seemed relieved and ready to leave the room when the answer was yes.
This blunt comment is the epitome of Tortorella. He will tell you as he sees it. Reporters have learned to never know what to expect (and to wear deodorant) as you never know what he will say.
#4: 2016-17 Season and Win Streak
The No. 4 most memorable moment was a turning point for hockey in Columbus. It is the point where many fans realized the ceiling for the team was high with Torts. The 2016-17 win streak, where the Blue Jackets won 16 in a row to set a new franchise record while going undefeated in December. After the win streak, the success continued for the organization – they finished 50-24-8, with 108 points, and the third seed in the Metropolitan Division for the best season in team history.
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Even though they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, this was the season that gave many fans hope they found the right coach. It was a sneak peek at what Blue Jackets hockey could be.
#3: Torts Answers Reporter’s Phone
The No. 3 memorable moment included more pressroom hijinks. It happened as Tortorella paused his press conference because former Athletic writer, Tom Reed, had a few calls from his mom. Tortorella tried to continue with the presser but gave up and finally answered the phone after the third call.
Tortorella answered, but was very polite. He carried on a decently long conversation in which he said he was in a press conference and when she apologized, he said he’d rather talk to her than her son. He also told her that her son would call her back and that it would be rude if he didn’t since she called three times.
After he wished her a good day, he hung up to a room full of laughing reporters. He needed to be reminded of what question he was answering. He even gave a rare smile. This will be remembered by fans and reporters for years to come.
#2: Game 1 Speech Against Tampa Bay
No. 2 came pre-game of Game 1 in Tampa Bay in 2019. Tortorella gave what may be one of the most memorable speeches in hockey. It has practically become poetry in Columbus.
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He said, “Forget about skills. Forget about X’s and O’s. It’s a (expletive) mindset of (expletive) believing. It’s amazing what can (expletive) happen. So, you stand in there, and you don’t take a (expletive) backward step, not for a (expletive) second. Stand face to face with them and take it right (expletive) to them. There is no one taking a (expletive) backward step here.”
This motivational speech hit right where he wanted it to. The Jackets were fired up and played with more energy than Tampa throughout the series and swept the Lightning. It was their first playoff series win in franchise history. It is such a memorable moment fans are still talking about it a year later. There are even shirts for sale with quotes from it.
#1: Jackets Sweep Tampa Bay
The No. 1 moment happened on a historic night on April 19, 2019. The Blue Jackets were on the verge of their first playoff series win. They jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but Tampa Bay came back and tied it 3-3. On a delayed penalty, Oliver Bjorkstrand put the Jackets up 4-3. They never looked back.
Adding three empty-net goals, they stormed to a 7-3 win over Tampa Bay and won the first playoff series in franchise history. This was all in front of a sold-out Nationwide Arena. It was quite a night in the city. Tortorella was ecstatic, but having the one game at a time mentality, he will tell you different, but you could see that he was overjoyed. Being one of the biggest upsets in hockey history, this is a moment he or fans won’t forget.
Honorable Mention: Beer Spill
The first honorable mention also occurred during the Tampa Bay series. After Artemi Panarin scored an empty-net goal to give the Blue Jackets a 5-3 lead. The crowd got rowdy and spilled beer over the glass and onto Tortorella’s head.
Unlike when he got beer spilled on him in 2009 in New York, he didn’t seem to care. He was seen drying his hair with a towel and even gave the fans a warm smile. That’s much different than the 2009 incident where he threw a water bottle at the fan.
Honorable Mention: Tirade Against the NHL
The last moment is not Tortorella’s finest. He will even admit he was wrong on this. It came after what he felt was a mismanaged clock by the officials, even though the Jackets seemed to have won the game. The goal was waved off and the game went to a shootout, where goaltender Joonas Korpisalo sustained a serious knee injury.
He was livid and went on a postgame tangent full of expletives. He used words like “stubborn” to refer to the officiating. He was angry because of all of the technology and they couldn’t get the clock right. His actions were called “unprofessional” and “unacceptable” by NHL vice president of hockey operations, Colin Campbell.
He was fined $20,000 and given a conditional fine of $25,000 if similar actions were to occur in the next year (from Dec. 29th, 2019). Not was all bad from this situation though. Fans created a GoFundMe page to pay the fine, where all proceeds went to the Tortorella Family Foundation. While this isn’t his best moment, it is a moment that fans won’t soon forget.
Cody Chalfan is currently a journalism major at the Ohio State University who grew up in Columbus and loves hockey, especially the Blue Jackets. He is disabled, therefore he is a major advocate for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone movement. A piece he wrote focusing on the Blue Jackets’ work on expanding the sport into the local special needs community can be found here. Cody can be contacted via Twitter (@cachalfan) direct message for comments, constructive criticism, or story ideas.