Flyers’ Tortorella adapting to ‘today’s athlete’

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Flyers' John Tortorella
VOORHEES, PA – JULY 14: Flyers head coach John Tortorella watches development camp behind the netting at the Flyers Training Center on July 14, 2022 in Voorhees NJ. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Transparent since the day he arrived in Philadelphia, John Tortorella stresses the detail, structure, and outright will to compete.

Before Tortorella arrived, the Philadelphia Flyers had ‘something to prove.’ It was one of the mantras from an awful 2021-2022 season. That mantra hasn’t changed; it’s doubled down. The approval rating is critically low entering 2022-2023. This season is about starting over.

Tortorella put his camp through plenty of mental and physical tests. The Flyers might be one of the best-conditioned teams on the ice. A record of 1-4-1 might say otherwise, but that doesn’t include context. These players were raw during the 2022-2023 NHL Preseason, strictly playing hard for one another without much structure.

“We didn’t do systems in preseason. Preseason was, ‘I want to see how hard you work, I want to see a team come together, I want to see teamwork, and guys playing for each other.’ He didn’t really harp on systems. There was times when he came back to the bench, he couldn’t get frustrated because we didn’t know the system we were playing, we were just playing hard, and that’s what they were looking for; that’s what they wanted.”

Kevin Hayes; 10/6/2022

Now, four days away from opening night with a roster becoming increasingly healthy, Tortorella is a little more hands-on with coaching. These players are learning the system and expectations from Tortorella as the group shrinks, taking on more productive conversations.

Learning about the players was a critical step for Tortorella. His philosophy on coaching has changed over time. These athletes are different, and he wants them to play their games, but how his roster will win isn’t out of play design and system schemes, it’s the tenacity they exhibit on the ice.

Players hear the noise. Last season was mutual in that it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Joel Farabee, feeling “a hundred percent,” is ready for Philadelphia to come out swinging while everyone assumes their backs are against the ropes.

“I think we have a lot to prove. A lot of people are doubting us, saying we’re not going to be a good team, this and that. Oftentimes I find you play a lot better when a lot of people are doubting you.”

Joel Farabee; 10/6/2022

Kevin Hayes hears the noise, too.

“We have a lot of people that think we’re not going to be any good. We can use it as motivation. I’ve seen teams in this league that everyone counted them out, and all the sudden they’re winning games and making the playoffs.”

Kevin Hayes; 10/6/2022

These players are in control of how hard they work, their attention to detail, mental toughness, and overall conditioning. Those concepts create a foundation to compete and might be more important than any system implemented.

“Our systems in this game are just not that difficult, and I’m going to say it to you again; I was that guy. I had a book, and it was like, ‘okay, if the puck’s there, you go here, and if the puck moves;’ it was like I’m programming. I feel totally opposite about the game right now, especially with today’s athletes and their attention span of an amoeba as far as just getting a couple of minutes out of them. You can’t give them that. What outweights the x’s-and-o’s is the will, and that’s what you coach.”

John Tortorella; 10/6/2022

More important than placement and system schemes is the outright will to compete. The players who work the hardest will play. Tortorella made that clear in a statement to the Flyers season ticket holders. “We don’t really have that flash like a lot of other teams around the league,” said Hayes, but he followed with:

“It’s hard work; it’s what he preaches. I’m someone who believes that every time someone plays in the NHL, they do give it their best. Sometimes, it’s not enough. The way that Torts wants us playing; the way we track, is going to be so annoying to play against. There’s no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it; if you’re not tracking, your not playing.”

Kevin Hayes; 10/6/2022

Before any system, the foundation must be sturdy. The structure of a system includes certain detail, but without precise fundamentals, the execution won’t be there. Tortorella is starting over at the fundamentals, mitigating sloppiness. Curing old habits begins with the new staff unearthing every detail. Tortorella, Rocky Thompson, and Brad Shaw are the new regime reshaping Philadelphia hockey.

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)