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Lighten up, John Tortorella.
That’s the message to an old school, some might even say crusty, hockey voice that apparently had a massive problem with the Trevor Zegras lacrosse-style pass for an Anaheim Ducks goal that had everybody in the hockey world talking this week. I mean, when was the last time anybody excitedly talked about the Anaheim Ducks like this in any fashion?
The young former Boston University standout is rightfully being chatted up for the highlight reel play where he flipped a puck up from behind the net and engineered an alley-oop style pass for Sonny Milano to swat into the net.
His reaction afterward was just as refreshing as the goal itself.
Here it is if you’ve been living under a hockey rock for the last week and haven’t seen it, or if you’ve been dwelling in a cave all week like our friend Torts prior to hating on one of the NHL’s plays of the year.
Just as “The Michigan” goal has inspired hockey players at all levels to attempt lacrosse-style goals when the situation presents itself, there was an endless supply of videos on social media of young hockey players mimicking Zegras’ playmaking magic this week.
Videos of the showstopping play accounted for over 50 million views on multiple social media platforms since it happened on Tuesday night. This is exactly the kind of viral, visceral word-of-mouth phenomena that exists as the future of hockey as it inspires thousands of kids to pick sticks and pucks and see if they can make the next sensational play everybody will talk about.
But not according to ESPN analyst Tortorella, who comes from a place where a blocked shot during a third period penalty kill, or a deep cross-dump into the zone, is ten times more exciting than Zegras’ derring-do will ever be.
"It's tremendously skilled. For Sonny Milano even to yell 'Michigan' in the middle of a play in a game is skill. That's a skilled play. My position, though, is it good for the game?" Tortorella said during ESPN's broadcast Friday night. "I'm not so sure. And again, I'm not trying to be a fool here, but I'm just not so sure it's great for the game. If you did that back in 2000, late '90s, 2000, you'd get your head taken off. It's cool, it's cool to watch and all that, but I'm not so sure it's good for the game.”
In fact, the ex-Lightning, Rangers, Canucks and Blue Jackets head coach doubled down and admitted he’d have a talk with any player that tried that if he was behind the bench. In essence, the message would be “Don’t ever do that again, kid!”
"I'd have a talk with the people, I would, after the game," Tortorella said. "Again, I'm not trying to be difficult about it. It's fun to watch, it's really cool. I just think our game has gone so far away from what the game should be.
“[It should be] a hard game, an honest game. It's almost gotten too showman. I know you need to have it; you need to sell the game. But I'm just from the ilk that it's still a hard game to play, and a good, honest hockey game needs to be played. I think some of this stuff here we get carried away."
Listen, there is still plenty of room for old school views and tried-and-true perspectives bathed in old time hockey. This humble hockey writer still longs to see moments like Zdeno Chara beating the ever-loving stuffing out of Yakov Trenin for taking a run at one of his New York Islanders teammates.
And things like blocked shots, tying up sticks in front of the net and a good, old-fashioned redirection off the hockey pants for a greasy goal are items way up on the winning hockey priority list even as people marvel at the Zegras razzle-dazzle play. The teams that win the Stanley Cup every spring employ that kind of gritty, hard-to-play-against style, and that’s probably why Tortorella will end up with a head coaching gig in a place like Philadelphia before too long.
But there’s also got to be room made for creativity, skill and the kind of breath-taking play Zegras pulled out for the “Assist of the Year” with the Ducks. The hard and simple truth that John Tortorella values so much is this: This isn’t Tortorella’s NHL anymore and his antiquated attitude is ultimately why he burns out of every head coaching gig that he’s had during his long hockey coaching career.
The time for old school hockey coaches putting a damper on skill and offensive creativity is long since over as influential entities like USA Hockey preach puck skills, creativity and zone entries over the stale dump-and-chase mindset.
We know you’ve got a problem with elite skills guys like Connor McDavid and players like Zegras having a little fun when they’re out there making plays, Torts. But this is exactly why high-end players like Artemi Panarin, Pierre Luc-Dubois and Seth Jones didn’t stick around in Columbus when they get a chance to flee the Blue Jackets during your reign in Columbus.
Maybe, just maybe, you should consider if it’s a “you” problem rather than a “them” problem when it comes to Zegras’ magic trick earlier this week. The hockey world is going forward, and not backwards, when it comes so much about the game including this.