Sunday, April 26, 2009

From Tortorella to Schoenfeld

Yesterday's news that New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella would be suspended by the league for today's Game Six against the Washington Capitals after squirting a fan with water and throwing a water bottle into the crowd [James Mirtle, From The Rink] was interesting, but not unique. Of course, Tortorella is famous for his temper; this video of him tearing a strip off Larry Brooks of the New York Post is hilarious, but it shows that he perhaps isn't the most controlled coach in the world. It's also worth noting that this came after he benched Sean Avery for Game Five for his own lack of control.

However, the most interesting part about this story is that assistant coach/assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld is going to replace Tortorella behind the bench. Schoenfeld, of course, was famously involved in a similar situation back in the 1988 Prince of Wales Conference Finals when he was coaching the New Jersey Devils:

Yep, it's that Jim Schoenfeld who confronted referee Don Koharski after a 6-1 loss to the Bruins in Game Three. Koharski fell down and accused Schoenfeld of pushing him; Schoenfeld came back with "Good, because you fell, you fat pig! Have another donut!" It's gone down in history as one of the most storied coach/referee confrontations, and even made it into Wayne's World.

TSN host James Duthie said on the air a moment ago that Schoenfeld is the only other NHL coach to ever be suspended for a playoff game. That's true, but only to a certain extent. During the Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1982, Roger Neilson was the head coach, but he only got the job after GM/coach Harry Neale was suspended for brawling with fans in Quebec during the last part of the regular season. Neilson himself was kicked out of a game against the Chicago Blackhawks during the playoffs for the infamous towel-raising incident that kicked off the Canucks' tradition of Towel Power. He wasn't suspended beyond that, though, but it shows that there's a long history of coaches acting up in the playoffs.

What's funny is how things have changed, though. Back in 1988, the league suspended Schoenfeld for the next game, but the Devils got a restraining order issued by New Jersey Superior Court Judge James F. Madden only 40 minutes before the start of Game Four that allowed Schoenfeld to coach. This triggered a walkout by the game's officials, referee Dave Newell and linesmen Gord Broseker and Ray Scapinello, which delayed the game for over an hour. Eventually, local officials Paul McInnis, Jim Sullivan and Vin Godleski were recruited to work the game. Schoenfeld was later suspended for Game Five and things returned to normal. The Devils lost the series in seven games, and the Bruins lost to the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Things appear to be taking a more moderate course this time. The Rangers released a statement Saturday night that they "disagree with the suspension" [Pierre LeBrun,], but there's no sign of a court order yet. President and general manager Glen Sather did send a strongly-worded letter [Jeff Z. Klein, The New York Times] to Gary Bettman about security problems in Washington. I guess they only bother with the courts for important things like digital media rights [Sports Business Journal]. In any case, it's interesting to see how things have changed over the years, and it's hilarious that Schoenfeld is stepping in to Tortorella's shoes.


  1. Please, Andrew. I'd run through a brick wall for you, but that was twenty-one years ago. Jim Schoenfeld was a pretty young guy when that happened. You're going to be part of the media, you have to learn that some stuff needs to be let go.

  2. I didn't mean that Schoenfeld was likely to do it again, Neate; I'm sure he's learned from that experience. In my mind, it's absolutely still a story that the first coach ever suspended for a playoff game is replacing the second coach to earn that honour. Ignoring or glossing over Schoenfeld's history would be silly; he's now in a prominent role during this series and his background should be discussed. TSN apparently agrees; they replayed the old clip during the pregame show and talked about it, so I'm hardly venturing into realms that no one else will touch. Besides, the point isn't just about Schoenfeld; it's also about how much the NHL has changed. We've gone from lawsuits, court orders and replacement officials to strongly-worded letters of protest, which is quite a difference. I also don't like the idea that "the media" should all act a certain way in determining what is and isn't a story; that kind of groupthink is why a lot of people are dissatisfied with the mainstream media. This story is appropriate for this forum, and I stand behind my decision to post it.